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Hampstead journalist who exposed wrongdoing to stand trial over alleged £2.5million tax scam

PUBLISHED: 17:15 19 February 2014

Chris Atkins at court. Picture: Ed Willcox/Central

Chris Atkins at court. Picture: Ed Willcox/Central

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A journalist and film-maker who exposed wrongdoing in the tabloid press and gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry is to stand trial over an alleged £2.5million tax fraud plot.

Investigative journalist Chris Atkins, who made the 2009 documentary Starsuckers to reveal the “shams and deceit” involved in celebrity reporting, is accused of being involved in a complex five-year scam to cheat the taxman, along with 12 others, including seven investment bankers.

Atkins, 37, of South End Road, Hampstead, won critical acclaim for the film, which saw newspapers tricked into publishing false stories about stars, including the late Amy Winehouse, Pixie Geldof and Guy Ritchie.

He was shortlisted for a Bafta in 2007 for his earlier film Taking Liberties, about the erosion of civil liberties under Tony Blair’s government, and he also made a BBC Panorama programme investigating Comic Relief.

In 2011, he gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, during which a 30-minute excerpt from Starsuckers was played.

The court case comes after HMRC carried out investigations into the finances of movie industry firms.

The scheme supposedly enabled the investment bankers, three of whom are former employees of the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, to submit bogus tax returns to claim tax relief on losses 
between January 2007 and February 2012.

The alleged plot is said to relate to Starsuckers and several other films which were never made.

Atkins is facing a single count of conspiring to cheat the public revenue. Another Hampstead man, investment banker Hamish Maclellan, 41, of South Hill Park, faces the same charge.

The other defendants include one of the financial backers of Starsuckers, executive producer Terence Potter, of West Riverside, Manchester, who faces three counts of trying to cheat the public revenue.

The defendants were all given leave not to attend a hearing at Southwark Crown Court last Thursday, when it was heard that the trials may be split into three, starting in April 2015.

A team of forensic accountants have been enlisted to trawl through information relevant to the case.

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