Of late there seems to have been rather more news about people being sent to prison for tax evasion than normal, possibly marking a real increase in HMRC’s activity in this area, says Simon Sweetman.
In general, we are slow to put people away for tax offences in this country, because, well, they’re not really the sort of people you send to prison (and because HMRC finds it difficult to convict the sort of people whose imprisonment might send a message). Many other countries are less reluctant to reach for this weapon: in the USA the rapper Beanie Sigel has just been sent down for two years, and Wesley Snipes was given three years in December 2010. Lauryn Hill is facing up to three years after pleading guilty last moth.
Al Capone, as everyone knows, went to prison for tax evasion because they couldn’t get him for anything else. But in most cases prison for tax offences is overwhelmingly intended as a warning to others, rather than retribution (and the notion of prison as a place where people may be reformed, rather than taught new and interesting criminal practices, seems long ago to have vanished from the British penal system).