Guest Post: The Honest (White) Collar

January 7, 2013

This is a guest post by FTD the barrister and author behind the forthedefence.org blog.

With much fanfare this week Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs announced their top thirty two tax cheats of 2012. Reminiscent of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ the mug shots of these ‘tax cheats’ was shown on television, in the newspapers and has been widely publicised on the internet.

If you missed it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmrcgovuk/sets/72157632409515581

I don’t like it. I don’t like it because it’s crass and tabloid.

And, I don’t like it because I’m proved right.

In 2005, I was a law student and in the early part of the year the Inland Revenue was merged with HM Revenue & Customs to become HMRC. I remember writing a scathing essay about how the ‘co-op culture’ of the Inland Revenue was incompatible with the ‘cop culture’ of Customs.

Combine that with the prospect of staff being moved over to the Serious Organised Crime Agency on the horizon and it was all getting a little culturally confusing.


England and Wales have had three ‘law enforcement’ agencies to deal with as individuals. The police, the revenue and customs.

Of those, the most ‘enforcement’ driven was customs. Customs for centuries have raised billions of £s for the treasury by enforcing the law with regard to import and export. They have very little protective function and a very high enforcement function.

If you ask the older wigs around Temple what Customs were like, they will tell you some stories. If you were against a dodgy customs officer then they put a bent copper in the shade.

Remember, the police are still tethered (although pulling) to a leash: policing by consent. British sensibilities would never allow a police force which was full enforcement orientated. Comparatively, Customs were set up with no such leash, they had a job, catch the rum smugglers etc, extract the duties owing.

Of course, not everyone tries to smuggle dodgy gin, or commits criminal offences – but, everyone does pay taxes. So, at the other end of the scale was the Inland Revenue. An enforcement agency to an extent, but an agency which tried to co-operate with the tax payer to obtain dues owing.

My fear was always that customs culture would overwhelm the co-operative culture of the Inland Revenue.

By example, prior to 2006, today’s advertised top taxcrims would have been dealt with by:

Operation Inertia – MTIC fraud (VAT) – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Hippolamp – Tobacco duty evasion –  would have been a Customs job.

Operation Recuprical – Tax fraud –  Inland Revenue (possibly police)

Operation Reinforce – Import duty evasion would have been a Customs job.

Operation Rust – Alcohol duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Tulipbox – VAT fraud – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Snowbank – Duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Tousle 95 – Tobacco duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Hazel Lamp – Tobacco duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Vara – Import duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

… should have been a customs job.

Clearly this latest piece of HMRC PR is a customs job. And, combined with the eyes. yes, you’ve all seen the ‘undeclared income eyes’ on bill boards, the tube, the train on the sides of buses.

It would seem to me that customs culture has won out. Combat don’t co-operate. The days of Moira Stuart, the cartoon of the Revenue man in the bowler hat: tax doesn’t have to be taxing are gone.


Why do I say it’s wrong? I don’t know the figures, whether enforcement or co-operation are better. But, what I do know is that a culture of enforcement rather than co-operation widens the caste of people who are to be potentially criminalised, not only is that crass, it’s wrong.

It’s all too us and them, the Government suspects everyone, suspects we’re all at the tax dodge. Forget the fact that most of you pay your taxes PAYE.

People are less likely to be open with HMRC if they think they are a suspect rather than a customer. Afterall, to coin a phrase which all coppers love to hate, ‘my taxes pay your wages mate.’


Visit forthedefence.org for more blog posts about criminal justice today in the UK.



  1. “It would seem to me that customs culture has won out”. It hasn’t. Or hadn’t at local office level seven years ago, when I retired from HMRC (Inland Revenue). The only signs of the merger were the name change and joint Intranet.
    These cases involve deliberate fraud on a massive scale, and not typical of the way the overwhelming majority of taxpayers are dealt with.

    • Interesting. I found that if you asked an ex-Revenue person in HMRC they’d tell you the Customs culture had won. And if you asked an ex-Customs person they’d tell you the Revenue culture had won. And if you found someone who had joined HMRC after the merger and asked them the same question they’d look at you as if you were a dinosaur!

  2. Wendy –

    My current preferred response to “My taxes pay your wages” is “Technically, yes, I agree that a minute proportion of the taxes you pay may find its way into my pay cheque; but it you compare your tax bill with the total exchequer revenue, and my salary with the total exchequer expenditure, you will see that in each case it is a sufficiently small proportion of the total as to be de minimis, and I am entirely satisfied that there is no real risk of any conflict of interest arising. Now, shall we continue with the task in hand?”

    Affectionately yours,

    An Officer of Revenue & Customs and elected ARC official.

    • Jeremy

      Hmm… you HAD noticed that this was a guest post blog by FTD, the barrister who writes http://forthedefence.org/ and not by me, right?

      And my taxes paid out of my pension paid out of your taxes probably wouldn’t pay *anybody’s* wages!

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