“HMRC don’t respond to speculation about alleged breaches of confidentiality”. How many thousands of us have received this, or a similarly worded response from HMRC ? Or for those of us who have pressed MP’s for an answer the appropriately named Ministerial Correspondence Unit of HMRC ?
Some of you older Bears will remember how the producers of the American TV soap Dallas, wrote off the events of a whole series by suggesting one of the characters had merely dreamt it all. That’s fine – perhaps I will awaken tomorrow morning to find the Rangers Tax Case Blog never existed or “The Men Who Sold The Jersey’s” BBC Scotland documentary was just a nightmare. But of course they aren’t just figments of a bad dream, they are every bit as real as the leaked confidential information which gave the foregoing blog and documentary a modicum of credibility. There is no “speculation” about it, nor is it an “alleged breach of confidentiality”.
Those of you who have read Follow We Will, by The Rangers Standard, will be well aware of the considerable injustices foisted upon our club and will be familiar with the damaging press articles written at the time of our fall. These happened, not simply because a charlatan had managed to gain effective control of our club and run it into the ground; it was because those dispensing injustice or penning scathing articles were doing so because they had bought into the lie that Rangers had indulged in “years of cheating”. That erroneous supposition was as a consequence of not just leaks and breaches of confidentiality, but the further subsequent manipulation of that obtained information. I remain convinced to this day that the SPL vote not to re-admit Rangers into the SPL was based on a presumption of guilt over EBT’s rather than anything else.
“If you wanted to know the latest news on their tax travails, rangerstaxcase was a place you went because, unlike newspapers or radio stations, rangerstaxcase was connected to the heart of the FTT and everybody knew it.
It had documents and detail that were beyond dispute. When illustrating one point it was making it would summon up information that could only have come from somebody within, or very close to, the tribunal”
(Tom English – The Scotsman 25.11.2012)
I had originally written to HMRC as part of an ongoing process of elimination; expecting them to assert that they had cross referenced the documents and evidence they had seized and undoubtedly catalogued, and were satisfied that the leaked confidential information appearing in the public domain had not come from themselves. Their response, as per the opening paragraph, not only astonished me, it also suggested to me something was clearly not right. However after numerous exchanges of correspondence it became clear neither HMRC, nor government ministers at the Treasury with ministerial responsibility for HMRC, were going to deviate from the clearly well rehearsed, but nonetheless erroneous “speculation” and “alleged” generic reply.
At this point it’s is perhaps worthy of a short re-cap. Confidential information regarding Rangers tax dealings was appearing almost daily on a web blog and had already been subject of a documentary produced by our national broadcaster. The revelations by both the foregoing was to earn them awards in their respective fields. Whilst all this was happening the Investigative Agency responsible for collecting and securing evidence and information in the Rangers Tax Case was referring to breaches of confidentiality using terminology such as “speculation” and “alleged”
Then the unthinkable happened – the experts sitting at the First Tier Tax Tribunal disagreed with Graham “Selective Amnesia” Spiers and all the other “internet and Scottish media tax experts” in declaring Rangers not guilty. This result was to prove the catalyst for the emergence of Professor Peter Watson of legal firm Levy & McRae, who announced on 27.11.2012 that he had written to Crown Office on behalf of Sir David Murray, asking them to launch a criminal investigation into such leaks.
The only problem was that we heard nothing more on this, nor in fact was it even confirmed if Crown Office had indeed launched a criminal investigation. Consequently I raised my own criminal complaint in respect of the various breaches of confidentiality, in my capacity as a shareholder of Rangers oldco. In due course I received a letter from Ruaraidh Nicolson, Assistant Chief Constable Strathclyde Police, who confirmed the matter was already subject of an ongoing Police investigation. I presume this is as a consequence of Professor Watson’s complaint although this has never been confirmed – but confirming the investigation was ongoing was my priority not who had made the complaint.
At this point I decided to test the water again with HMRC. Only this time I decided to do so with some political clout. Two options were available to me, my MSP or my MP. The latter, Jim McGovern, Scottish Labour, was the only Scottish member of Parliament to sign George Galloway’s Early Day Motion 913 – accusing our club of using insolvency law to avoid paying tax – a subject he and I had a fairly acrimonious exchange of letters with regard to.
I therefore opted to engage the services of my local MSP – Joe Fitzpatrick SNP. But before I managed to meet Mr Fitzpatrick an event occurred which was to prove to be a significant “game changer”
If words speak to you then the ones I was reviewing on my computer monitor were positively screaming at me. People speak of that “Boom – Headshot” moment, well this was one of them.
Furthermore the author, as well as the context left no doubt whatsoever as to the absolute veracity of the narration. I was reading Section 98 of Lord Nimmo Smith’s summary of the SPL Independent Commission Enquiry:-
“Meanwhile, BBC Scotland came, by unknown means, into possession of what they described as “dozens of secret emails, letters and documents”, which we understand were the productions before the Tax Tribunal. These formed the basis of a programme entitled “Rangers – The Men Who Sold the Jerseys”, which was broadcast on 23 May 2012. BBC Scotland also published copious material on its website. The published material included a table containing the names of Rangers players, coaches and staff who were beneficiaries of the MGMRT, and how much they received through that trust.”
For those who are unfamiliar with legal jargon the word “productions” refer to evidence. It was simple enough to understand – a considerable volume of evidence had been stolen from The Rangers Tax case and passed on to BBC Scotland, and of course perhaps others. This stolen evidence then became the research material and driving force for the documentary “The Men Who Sold The Jerseys”.
So why is Section 98 of Lord Nimmo Smith’s Report such a significant game changer ?
Well it establishes that the material utilised in the BBC Documentary, and published on the BBC Website (and possibly utilised elsewhere) – originated from material seized by, and in the care of HMRC who, as the investigatory agency, were ultimately responsible for these “productions”, irrespective of who had custody, charge or care of these documents at the time of the theft.
You will recall in my last article I highlighted how hundreds of Rangers shareholders writing to HMRC to complain about these breaches of confidentiality were subjected to a standard response of “HMRC do not comment on speculation about alleged breaches of confidentiality.”
Lord Nimmo Smith’s report completely destroys and usurps that HMRC generic response, and serves to confirm it was neither speculation nor alleged breaches of confidentiality.
The consequence of this is that HMRC have some considerable explaining to do to the Rangers supporters who highlighted these breaches of confidentiality, as HMRC’s assertion of it being “speculation and allegation” is not consistent with the facts and circumstances alluded to by Lord Nimmo Smith.
Either the security surrounding the evidence was so inept, so poor, that it was compromised on numerous occasions, or in one “grand heist” allowing the perpetrators to not only supply BBC Scotland with stolen evidence, but also other outlets such as The Rangers Tax Case Blog which, almost on a daily basis managed to produce documentation relating to Rangers tax affairs. Are we honestly to believe that HMRC were unaware that such theft (s) of evidence occurred and furthermore due to incompetent management of their evidence they were unaware that “copious material” was being removed and passed on to others ?
It is worth remembering at this point that contained in HMRC’s own Charter, under the heading “What you can Expect From Us” is a commitment to “Protect your information and respect your privacy”
But this theory is not without considerable problems. It would mean that HMRC totally ignored the material being published by BBC Scotland and The Rangers Tax Case Blog, ignored the concerns of the many hundreds of Rangers shareholders who wrote complaining of the breaches of confidentiality – in short that they adopted a head in the sand mentality to reports of apparent breaches of confidentiality which were being flagged up to them.
Investigative Agencies seizing numerous items of documentary evidence, catalogue it for ease of reference – it would have been a simple task for HMRC to check the material appearing on the BBC Scotland and Rangers Tax Case Blog Websites by cross referencing it with their own catalogued evidence in order to establish if a problem existed.
Quite simply believing this theory requires us to accept a level of negligence and incompetence by HMRC which would in my opinion, be tantamount to criminal neglect.
A further possibility is equally unpalatable however – quite simply that HMRC were aware of the breaches of confidentiality and the theft of evidence, but for reasons best known to themselves, decided to deliberately mislead and misdirect the complaints from Rangers shareholders with their generic “speculation and allegation” rebuttal, perhaps in the hope that it would all blow over and in time interest would wane.
During the course of this sojourn I have received confirmation that the ongoing Police enquiry into the Breaches of Confidentiality in the Rangers Tax Case is as a consequence of the complaint raised by Lord Peter Watson on behalf of Sir David Murray. It is significant that this complaint was raised after the conclusion of the first tier tax tribunal. Which begs the question why HMRC had not raised a similar complaint earlier? Is it really acceptable that in the highest profile tax case ever seen in Scotland, the Investigative Agency, HMRC, had the evidence stolen and they failed to report this theft to the Police for investigation – despite it appearing on National Media outlets as well as anonymous web blogs ?
I am currently awaiting a response from HMRC to several Freedom of Information Requests served upon them via my solicitor. I am of the opinion that as well as failing to deliver upon their own charter, the subsequent response from them, if provided, will confirm they have also failed to uphold their own operational guidelines with regard to the loss of evidence in the Rangers Tax Case.
Given the level of inconsistency, ambiguity and possible misleading of the public, I think it is high time that the investigators themselves were subject to investigation.
Let us all push for the Government Enquiry, both our club and our support deserve.