When His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs went after Gary Lineker, it chose a very public target in the hope of a high-profile win.

Instead, the taxman got thrashed – the legal equivalent of a 5-0 drubbing – when a tribunal ruled that Lineker did not fail to pay £4.9m in tax. In fact, he had paid every penny he owed.

The tax inspector’s strategy of pursuing the famous backfired.

Lineker still faces a legal bill for hundreds of thousands of pounds, i understands, having spent years of his life tied up in court cases.

The tax dispute has also strained his relationship with the BBC, as we revealed three weeks ago.

Lineker’s clash with Auntie wasn’t only about tweeting. Since 2018 the BBC has been engaged in a long and bitter argument with some of its best-known presenters about their tax arrangements.

In the television world’s war for talent, this is not the smart way to hold on to your best people.

HMRC’s botched pursuit of Lineker reflects badly on tax chiefs as well as on the BBC. Both have lost credibility.

Lineker paid more tax than he could have, yet was publicly accused of being a tax avoider. Tax accountants are baffled by events.

HMRC has 56 days to appeal but would be best served by an undignified retreat and a period of introspection.

@olyduff

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