When it’s right to name and shame HMRC
When I was investigated by HMRC I broke one of the golden rules. I named the investigators. I got a of flack for this from both HMRC and tax professionals.
“What right did have I to name an individual who was just doing her job?” Was what I got a lot of.
My answer was: every right, when that person is a bully on a personal vendetta to hammer you into the ground.
The woman who investigated me – Jacqui Lamper – was simply a bully who’d got a bit of power and was having a lovely time with it. Behind the scenes she was saying she felt ‘lost’ and admitted to wanting to close the case (because of the lack of evidence) but to my face she was relentless.
How did she bully? She went to town on any small detail, indeed no detail was too small to question, a £10 David Beckham autobiography quickly became of great interest. Jacqui Lamper asked, “Are there any documents to show that you purchased the David Beckham book in the belief that you would get to interview him? Otherwise there is nothing that shows that it was not purchased for your own enjoyment.”[toggle_framed title=”If you want to get an idea of just how petty and pedantic things got you can see an example by clicking on the ‘+‘ sign on the left.”]
In the first interview I attended (22 November 2005) Enquiry Officer Steve Coomber asked about a David Beckham book that I had claimed as an expense, “Did you do an article on David Beckham?” He asked. I immediately gave the following very full answer, “No, but I tried very hard to get an interview with him… I specifically went to the FA building in Soho Square and I waited outside for the manager and bought a small gift – a chocolate orange – and I gave that to him with a note in the hope in the hope of getting some sort of interview.”
Despite giving this full answer (and showing newspaper cuttings to illustrate that I had a track record of interviewing celebrities) four months later (21 March 2006) HM Inspector of Taxes Jacqui Lamper was still unsatisfied, “Are there any documents to show that you purchased the David Beckham book in the belief that you would get to interview him? Otherwise there is nothing that shows that it was not purchased for your own enjoyment…” She went on to say she was also concerned that I might have given the book to somebody as a gift or sold it on eBay.
In the end it took nine months, two interviews and more time than I care to think about to come to a conclusion over this simple issue: claiming a £10 book as an expense. This bullish and petty attitude has been characteristic of the entire investigation.[/toggle_framed]
Beckhamgate went on over nine months, two interviews and many letters – that was just one aspect, there were many others. More about my case here.
I mention this now because of a new story that went national last month.
This investigator, Denise Freeman, was described by her neighbours as ‘From Hell’ in a nutshell there had been an argument over a drainpipe that had gone on for seven years and Denise exploited her job (as a HMRC inspector) in that argument, the full story is in The Mail here.
The story is interesting, but what’s really gripping is the image of Denise walking into court.
When this photo was taken she’d lost her job at HMRC and was clearly going to do badly at court. Her partner’s body language is closing up. He’s got his arms folded and papers close to his chest. He knows this is not going to end well. But Denise is having none of that. Even though the sun is in her eyes she’s marching to court with the swagger and determination of an unstoppable moral crusader.
Even after she was found guilty and she’d lost her job Denise was still adamant: the Mail quoted her as saying, she is appealing her conviction, says she stands by her research into Mr Conway and refutes his allegations that she made rude gestures at him.
So my answer is this: if you have an investigator who is just doing their job, it’s not really acceptable to out them, but if they are using their job to indulge in malicious bulling; then it’s time to record telephone calls, meetings, use the FOI and Data Protection Acts.