Diary

By Winner, Michael | The Spectator, September 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Diary


Winner, Michael, The Spectator


I was very naughty when young. I stole from my schoolmates' pockets as they played games. I stole from Woolworth's. And probably more places. As responsibility entered my maturing soul, I tried to make amends. I advertised for those at school who I might have made poorer and paid back many times the amount to the only one who turned up. I sent a cheque for £500 to the chairman of Woolworth's for about £1.50 of nicking. He asked if he could put this in his staff newspaper as he got many similar donations.

And in the 1960s when top tax was 98 pence in the pound, I stashed some money abroad. It all came back to the UK over 20 years ago, but I'd diddled the Revenue out of tax on the interest. I salved my conscience by leaving them millions in my will. Then I decided not to keep them waiting. So I told them about it! 'What do I owe you?' I asked with rare nobility. This produced a marvellous man, Peter Thackeray, an investigator from the Special Compliance office in Bristol, who carried out a thorough four-year examination into everything I and my companies had done for the previous 20 years. Of course he found nothing else wrong. Peter ('call me Pete') Thackeray had a terrific sense of humour. He fought like a tiger on behalf of the Revenue. But I greatly admired and liked him.

Some years ago a group gathered in my house to settle matters and I happily passed over a cheque for millions of pounds.

Mr Thackeray said, 'Now you're respectable Mr Winner.' I replied, 'That's the only thing that worries me, Peter. I'm not sure I want to be respectable.' I thought, but didn't really believe, that would be the end of my dealings with the Inland Revenue. They have a habit of reviewing things and changing previous decisions.

Over many decades I've much enjoyed 'discussing' my affairs with Revenue inspectors. I exchange Christmas cards with many of them, mostly retired. But the latest debate amazes even me. Colin Cain, a CPR Compliance Caseworker in the NorthEast Metropolitan Area Complex Personal Return Team, has looked at my expenses for eating meals in my job as restaurant critic for the Sunday Times.

These have been approved by all previous inspectors. Mr Cain suggests these should not be deductible, because 'the costs cannot be said to have been incurred wholly and exclusively in the performance of your duties when a secondary motive, or even an unconscious one, is to satisfy the need to eat to live.' Read that bit again, please!

The debate is ongoing. I put to Mr Cain that, unlike normal citizens, food critics have to go out to eat. …

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