Share this content
Tax advisers mourn champion jockey and tax cheat Lester Piggott
iStock_mgstudyo_Racehorse

RIP Lester Piggott: Champion jockey and tax cheat

by

It wasn’t just racegoers who mourned the passing of legendary jockey Lester Piggott over the weekend. Many in the tax profession also doffed their hats to a man who set new records for tax evasion.

30th May 2022
Share this content

When word came through that former champion jockey Lester Piggott had died in Switzerland over the weekend, the nostalgia-laden obituaries prompted a few rueful smiles among seasoned tax advisers.

While the papers lauded 4,500+ flat racing victories - so many that the actual number is hard to substantiate - younger readers might not remember another less salubrious chapter in the jockey’s life story: the 366 days Piggott spent in prison for tax evasion in the late 1980s.

In 1987 the Inland Revenue brought charges against Piggott for what amounted to £3.2m in fraud, at that point the biggest ever individual tax-dodging case of all time. 

According to an analysis of high profile tax evasion cases by the ATT’s Steven Perryman, Piggott channelled his earnings into bank accounts in Switzerland, the Bahamas, Singapore and the Cayman Islands to keep them away from tax inspectors. 

Following a joint Customs/Revenue investigation, the prosecution alleged that Piggott made false declarations during three successive inquiries into his tax affairs between 1970 and 1985. According to the BBC News archive, the specific amounts included failing to disclose £1.36m of riding income during that period and another £1.0m from bloodstock operations.

His fortune at the time was estimated to be worth roughly £20m.

Passing sentence, the judge noted that Piggott had misled his own accountants “until the matter was forced out of you” and sent him to prison for three years. In the end, he served one year and one day and two years later he was back out on the course, adding to his tally of wins.

The undisclosed bank account

Legend has it that the tax authorities only pressed charges after Piggott settled outstanding liabilities from the third tax investigation with a cheque drawn on an undeclared account, though the jockey dismissed this as a media hoax.

The Financial Times repeated the story in a piece from 2015 describing how commentator Peter O’Sullevan had pleaded over lunch with the Queen that stripping Piggott of his OBE was a step too far. 

“He was not only rather naughty, but he was very stupid,” Her Majesty reportedly replied in reference to the cheque incident.

The taciturn, partially deaf, obsessive competitor was hardly anyone’s idea of a loveable rogue, but his tangled tax affairs and less successful evasion strategies evoke almost as much awe among accountants as his racing record.

And like Ken Dodd, who followed in Piggott’s footsteps as the defendant in a criminal tax fraud trial (though Dodd was acquitted), the jockey earned a revered niche of his own among Revenue officials and lawyers. According to the FT.com, Piggott’s conviction and jail term prompted a rush of tax disclosures from the racing industry, with “a procession of tiny little men coming to the office” to reveal undeclared income.

May he rest in peace, finally out of reach of the tax inspectors.

Replies (20)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By Hometing
30th May 2022 14:19

How historical must tax evasion become before before 'tipping off' becomes 'tipping the hat'?

Thanks (2)
avatar
By Justin Bryant
30th May 2022 14:56

Presumably, assuming he's not married, he acquired a domicile of choice in Switzerland to avoid IHT (like Richard Burton)?
https://www.step.org/step-journal/step-journal-decjan-2012-13/richard-bu...

If so and that's successful he'll have the last laugh on HMRC.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
30th May 2022 15:26

Thanks for drawing out a point that I only alluded to in the introduction. It's yet another reminder of Ken Dodd's final farewell of marrying his long-term partner shortly before he died, presumably for similar reasons:
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/tax/hmrc-policy/ken-dodd-has-last-laugh-...

Thanks (0)
Replying to John Stokdyk:
avatar
By Justin Bryant
30th May 2022 16:27

I think Ken Dodd basically had a better barrister defending him than LP (he delivered one of the most memorable lines of any tax case).

Ditto here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/how-the-dog-with-a-monaco-ba...

Thanks (0)
Replying to John Stokdyk:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
30th May 2022 16:31

My father always said he would marry a 16 year old on his death bed to get one over on the WS annuitants fund .

His [***] for revenge came about as they made him, as a WS, contribute to the fund even when he was not married. His though process was they would then need to pay his widow her annuity for anything up to 80 years or so. (revenge being a dish........)

Thanks (0)
Replying to DJKL:
avatar
By AndyC555
31st May 2022 10:13

On a similar theme, the last known American Civil War widow died in December 2020 at the age of 101.

Aged 17, Helen Jackson married the then 93 year old James Bolin as Civil War widows were entitled to a pension. This was not uncommon and there were another three such widows known to have survived into the 21st century. However, after Bolin's death, Jackson decided not to claim the pension, fearing she would be accused of taking advantage of an old man.

Such thoughts didn't occur to Gertrude Janeway who was still receiving $35 a month when she died in 2003 for the Civil War military pension earned by her husband John Janeway having married him when she was 18 and he 81.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By mkowl
30th May 2022 15:58

It is an interesting one and relatively close(ish) to hand to the history of the larger firm that my firm was spun out of. There were a lot of connections to Newmarket and indeed one of the similar branded firms still as a major presence there.

I was reminding myself over the weekend and it was one of the partners of the older firm who took on Mr Piggott's tax returns after his release and what I read a 2nd disclosure to HMRC

This was all pre my time joining said firm, but the urban myth certainly flourished here

Thanks (0)
Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
31st May 2022 18:18

Lester Piggott's funeral is next Wednesday at 20/1.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Ivor Windybottom:
avatar
By SpaceInvader
01st Jun 2022 12:11

Who was the last 18 stone man to ride a Derby winner?

Lester Piggot's cell mate

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Paul Crowley
01st Jun 2022 12:06

Miser and tax criminal
Rich tax evaders and criminals are just people stealing from the country and the community.
At least Dodd did a bit of charity work

Thanks (4)
avatar
By RayM55
01st Jun 2022 12:26

Rip Lester, you left your mark on the tax system, not only did you stump up a load of cash you caused the Inland Revenue to change its approach in prosecution cases and we will never know the full extent of the extra tax, interest and penalties you brought in as a result of other jockeys owning up to their tax evasion.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By RayM55
01st Jun 2022 12:27

Rip Lester, you left your mark on the tax system, not only did you stump up a load of cash you caused the Inland Revenue to change its approach in prosecution cases and we will never know the full extent of the extra tax, interest and penalties you brought in as a result of other jockeys owning up to their tax evasion but it was considerable.

Thanks (0)
By Silver Birch Accts
01st Jun 2022 13:25

Sorry, I have a sense of humour that will stand against most. However, I find the headline and several comments offensive. I expected better from this site . I personally dislike horse racing but a man has died, yes he cheated but so do many in life and I wonder how many who have commented are 100% perfect in all aspects of their life. It is to be hoped that none of his family and friends ever visit this site.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
avatar
By Justin Bryant
02nd Jun 2022 10:37

You'd prefer a complete whitewashing of his criminal past I suppose? Also, this is a free country with free speech etc. last time I checked (although it's ever diminishing thanks to the likes of you). So well done Aweb I say!

Just coz people like him and Bob Maxwell eventually kick the bucket does not mean they are somehow thereby absolved of their crimes and we are not allowed to freely comment on them.

As for offending friends & relatives of the deceased, where do you suggest we draw the line re such crimes? Hitler?

In fact, bad publicity should be encouraged generally, for its deterrent effect. That's one of the main reasons we have open justice in this country.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
By Silver Birch Accts
02nd Jun 2022 14:19

It is not a question of whitewashing his criminal past, the man paid for his crimes. The Queen forgave him and was reported as asking his family how he was during his health problems. He remained her favourite jockey.
My comments centred on the disrepect this site and some comments showed, he was a human being and no doubt loved by his family, friends and admired for his career by many others.
Your comment about Hitler and Robert Maxwell is in itself, simply childish and does you no credit.
So under the guise of free speech you can have your opinions but attempt to close down mine . You state that thanks to the likes of me that free speech is diminishing, well you do not know me, if you did you would realise how completely wrong you are.
Your comment about open justice is not relevant in this case, for clarity look at the definition.
Justin remember, 'Judge not lest ye be judged'

Thanks (1)
Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
avatar
By RayM55
02nd Jun 2022 17:14

Justin likes free speech as long as it agrees with him. There is some irony in him criticising you whilst praising free speech, no?

Thanks (1)
Replying to RayM55:
avatar
By Justin Bryant
03rd Jun 2022 12:00

Totally dumb as usual (although I respect your right to make your dumb comments)!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
avatar
By Justin Bryant
03rd Jun 2022 11:58

Rubbish. Look here a scientist freely criticizing another scientist despite the fact he's recently died a horrible death as an example of the free speech I support.
https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=12910#comments

That dead scientist was not even a criminal!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
avatar
By Justin Bryant
03rd Jun 2022 12:58

This is to be contrasted with gratuitous mocking of the dead like this which is of course unacceptable:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-61680319

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Justin Bryant
08th Jun 2022 14:44

This other eminent publication has no such qualms at least I'm glad to say: https://www.taxation.co.uk/articles/news-this-week-

Thanks (0)