A COUPLE who fiddled £100,000 in VAT refunds on a fictional alpaca farm in Somerset have been found guilty of fraud.

Caroline Beech and her partner Patrick Ancell pretended to be running an alpaca trekking business on their four and a half acre smallholding near Wells when they were actually living 160 miles away in Cornwall.

They claimed VAT refunds on purchases of £429,000 for equipment for the farm in every financial quarter between 2011 and 2017, during which time their income was just £58,000.

They received £106,000 in rebates but their string of purchases for the apparently loss making business attracted the attention of investigators from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

A visit was made to the farm at Yarley, near Wells, and investigators found no sign of an alpaca farm or trekking business.

Beech, 54, and Ancill, 66, now both of Trevassack Parc, Hayle, Cornwall, both denied the fraudulent evasion of VAT but were found guilty by a jury at Truro Crown Court.

Their case was adjourned for sentencing in June and they were warned they may face jail.

During the trial, they claimed that they had been running a genuine mixed farming business and that all their claims for equipment were genuine.

The prosecuting claimed that they had "played the system" and were actually living in a flat in Redruth, Cornwall, when they said they were running the farm.

The jury heard that Ancill claimed over six years that his sales were £39,000 but his purchases were £429,000, entitling him to rebates worth £70,000.

Beech reported sales of £19,000 over six years but this was set against purchases of £214,000, generating a £36,000 VAT refund.

From 2015 Beech was living in a residential block of flats in Redruth, Cornwall, 160 miles from Wells and the claims carried on until the HMRC investigation uncovered the fraud in 2017.