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The Times report on Film Tax Credit Fraud

"Worst film-maker in UK is broke and jailed"  The headline in the Times.  Report by David Brown.

Simon Bickler QC and James Lake of St Pauls Chambers on the defence team for Richard Driscoll.

A film maker behind Britain’s first major independent studios since the 1960s was jailed for three years today for his role in a massive tax fraud.

Richard Driscoll was left broke despite a fraudulently receiving a £789,000 tax rebate which he used to fund Eldorado, narrated by Peter O’Toole and staring Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen and Steve Guttenberg.

Southwark Crown Court heard that Driscoll, an actor, director and owner of the Higher Nanpean studios in Cornwall, had been promised £35million to finance a string of horror films.

Simon Bickler, QC, in mitigation said: “For a number of years he had put his life work into building a working studios that was of international repute...one of the best studios outside of London.”

But through the involvement of international financial advisor Keith Howell he has lost everything, the court was told. While Howell and his companies were making £14,000 a month out of the scam Driscoll was paid just £65 week.

The trial heard that Driscoll worked up to 20 hours a day to make Eldorado and coped with a series of problems, including the hospitalisation of Michael Madsen, the star of Reservoir Dogs, Donnie Brasco, and the Kill Bill films, following a drinking binge.

Eldorado was described as pastiche of Mamma Mia, The Blues Brothers and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The opening scene featured a band called The Jew Brothers, which included Driscoll, performing at a Neo-Nazi rally.

Other stars, none of whom had any idea that the film was at the centre of a tax fiddle, included Brigitte Nielsen, Jeff Fahey, Sylvester McCoy and Buster Bloodvessel.

Driscoll, 53, recalled outside court how he had been making films since the age of 12 and joined Equity, the actors’ union, aged 16.

He described how Mr Howell had approached him looking for film investments for clients including Premier League footballers. The director said he asked for £400,000 to make a single film but was instead offered £35million to make four movies.

Howell, who died before he could be charged, told him to charge the same price as Pinewood Studios for making the film despite him quoting much less, he said. The jury accepted this overcharging was allowed under the rules for claiming film tax credits.

“A lot of film makers have to go investors who are not filmmakers who offer you an investment against tax,” said Driscoll. “They don’t care what the film is.”

The court heard that the Eldorado had a purported production and promotion budget of £12million but actually cost about £750,000.

The scam included a bogus invoice showing that David Carradine, the star of the 1970s TV series Kung Fu, was paid more than £400,000 for 13 days’ filming, even though he had died two weeks earlier.

Hannah was purportedly paid £575,000 for seven days’ shooting in Cornwall, even though she never left the United States. Another fake invoice showed Rik Mayall, the British comedy actor, received £44,350 for four days’ filming when his fee was actually £6,000 for two days.

Driscoll was convicted of conspiring to claim £1.5 million of VAT refunds in connection with Eldorado and two other films, Watchmen of Hellgate and Back2Hell. He was found not guilty of conspiring to claim more than £2 million in film tax credit subsidies for Eldorado.

His co-defendants, solicitor Terry Marsh, 45, accounts manager Richard Pearce, 65, and casting agency director Darren Moore, 42, were all cleared of the film tax credit and VAT conspiracies.

Judge Jeffrey Pegden told Driscoll that that although he was not the architect of the conspiracy he had used his film making expertise to create the bogus invoices.

“You did not gain personally, did not line you own pockets or live a lavish lifestyle,” said the judge. “Your living conditions and lack of income can accurately be described as rock-bottom.”

The case, which follows the jailing of five people involved in the £2.8million Landscape of Lies scam, has raised further concerns about the abuse of taxpayer subsidies for the British film industry.

Michael Simpson, the author of Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema 1997-2008, described Driscoll as “by a considerable margin the worst film maker currently working in Britain and one of the worst of all time”.

DAVID BROWN

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