A FARMER who swindled the taxman out of £300,000 and whose office burned down the night before an HMRC officer visited has been jailed for almost three-and-a-half years.

Over more than five years Anthony Page, 64, entered 20 false returns claiming back hundreds of thousands of pounds of VAT on zero-rated farm goods and services, including cattle sales.

Those false returns, which at its height saw Page claim £25,000 to £30,000 every quarter, kept Clivey Barn Farm, near Dilton Marsh, afloat.

When HMRC officers put Page on notice that he was under investigation the VAT claims fell sharply.

A customs officer visited the farm on April 28, 2014, and was told a farm building roof had recently blown off and the records couldn’t be seen.

He returned on July 3 only to be told a Portakabin containing the farm’s records had burned down the night before. Mr Green saw the still-smouldering embers.

Opening the case to a Swindon jury last year, prosecutor David Scutt said it was no coincidence the records had been consumed by fire as the HMRC pursued their investigation against Page.

Sentencing Page this morning, Judge Jason Taylor QC agreed with the prosecution’s case: “I am sure to the criminal standard that that is a correct assertion.”

Page had pleaded not guilty to fraud but was found guilty on three counts by the jury at Swindon Crown Court last November.

HMRC said Page had claimed VAT relief on almost £4m-worth of spending between 2008 and 2014. The items for which he had claimed tax relief included cattle sales and feed, which were zero or subject to a lower VAT band.

In mitigation, Derek Perry said his client had not sought to push blame onto others, including his accountants’ and administrators at the agricultural market who had inputted the disputed figures.

Page had not splurged the stolen cash on extravagant holidays, Mr Perry said. The money had helped keep the struggling farm going. References spoke of a hard-working man who was quick to help others. He had served as a director at Frome and District Agricultural Society, which runs the Frome Cheese Show, between 2011 and 2017.

In his absence, the farm would be run by two members of staff overseen by a neighbouring farmer. However, the long-term future of the cattle farm was uncertain.

Jailing him for three years and five months, Judge Taylor told Page: “Your feigned lack of understanding and memory was rightly rejected by the jury. These were not innocent mistakes made by somebody who was doing their best. This was a systematic fraud committed by an intelligent man.”

He described the farmer’s performance in the witness stand as a “tissue of lies” and said he would be failing in his public duty if he did not impose an immediate custodial sentence.

The judge added: “I am sure you now regret the situation you find yourself in but you have not shown during the trial before me one iota of remorse and you are even now refusing to accept any wrongdoing on your part.”