Imagine that you’re a conscientious citizen, a dying breed. You’re asked to serve on a jury where the accused faces a charge of tax evasion. He is alleged to have kept his considerable wealth instead of handing the right amount over to fund hospitals, schools, and transport.
You hear that he kept stacks of cash in suitcases and made frequent trips overseas to deposit money in twenty accounts that were deliberately omitted from a signed legal statement of assets. He accepted that he owed nearly a million and paid up. His defence is that his accountant died, and he didn’t understand the rules. Legally ignorance is not accepted as an excuse and individuals remain responsible for their own tax affairs.
In 1989 the verdict was Not Guilty. Does that sound right? Would you have agreed if you knew that the accused was legendary comedian Ken Dodd who died this week? He told the court that he was too ill to work again but continued performing for another 27 years after his acquittal. In choosing to disregard the facts, the jury in his home town of Liverpool sent a strong message that they regarded celebrity status as more important than civil responsibilities.
Ken Dodd’s legacy should be in comedy, where he was the last of his kind. He will also be remembered for the case that precipitated the terminal decline of the Inland Revenue and helped shape a society that has an increased reluctance to pay tax and a greater willingness to complain about cuts to public services.