A FORMER Top Gear mechanic from Didcot who helped tax cheats escape from the UK has been jailed.

Stephen Howard, of Crafts End, Chilton, helped tax cheats Jamie Colwell and his father Brian flee to Spain before they could be sentenced for a £1 million VAT scam, a HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigation found.

The pair have since been extradited back to the UK and are currently serving prison sentences totalling almost eight years.

Howard, who was jailed for 15 months yesterday, bought travel tickets for the pair and hired a van to drive Brian Colwell to a Spanish hideout.

During this time £2,900 was deposited into Howard’s bank account, HMRC said.

Ticket receipts and a detailed travel itinerary were discovered during a search of his home.

HMRC says its investigators pieced together the journey Howard helped the Colwells make by examining the receipts, bank statements, and evidence from mobile devices.

Howard, who helped to build and modify specialist racing cars on BBC show Top Gear, denied knowing anything about the pair's crimes or court appearances.

He was convicted of perverting the course of justice at Winchester Crown Court on 14 March and sentenced yesterday at Salisbury Crown Court.

HMRC investigators used evidence from Howard’s phone to track the Colwells to a villa in Benidorm before they were arrested in May 2018.

The pair had been convicted for dishonestly claiming £965,897 in VAT repayments after lying about spending £14 million on building new properties.

The stolen money was spent on luxury purchases including a speedboat, expensive cars and renting a high-end property in Sandbanks, Dorset.

Jamie Colwell was jailed for five years and three months, while Brian was jailed for two years and eight months. Both men were given an extra six months for breaching bail.