A 'CAREER fraudster' who helped a millionaire sportsman from Trafford to launder profits of a huge 'carousel' fraud - which funded a lavish lifestyle at taxpayers' expense - has had his jail term cut by top judges.

A court heard 62-year-old Leslie Cairns assisted high-living former golf champion, Duncan Evans, 51, to squirrel away cash from the multi-million-pound VAT scam.

Cairns, of Bramhall Lane, Stockport, and Evans, of Rappax Road, Hale, were both jailed for four years after being convicted of money laundering offences at Manchester Crown Court on August 5 last year.

Judges sitting at London's Criminal Appeal Court today ruled Cairns' sentence was 'excessive' and reduced it to three years, after his lawyers argued he played a 'lesser role' than Evans.

Lawyers for Evans also appeared before the court to challenge the 'safety' of his convictions, but the judges dismissed his appeal.

Mr Justice Underhill, sitting with Lord Justice Moses and Judge John Bevan QC, said the money came from a 'missing trader' scam, known as an MTIC fraud, which ran from 2002 to 2006.

The complex fraud takes advantage of the fact VAT is not charged on the sale of goods between VAT-registered companies based in different European countries.

The court heard Evans, who was named BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year in 1980, used £1.2m obtained in this way to buy Deansgreen Hall, in Lymm, in 2002. He then sold it in 2006 for £3.5m.

Evans, who met Cairns in prison when both were serving sentences for separate fraud offences, hit a problem when he came to sell the house and asked his former fellow inmate for help.

Cairns found a way around the problem, allowing Evans to cash-in the criminal funds that had been laundered through the house purchase, and was paid £50,000 for his efforts.

Evans was convicted of three offences of money laundering, relating to the purchase and sale of the house, and Cairns found guilty of one charge of money laundering for his part in the scheme.

Christopher Daw, acting for Cairns, told the court Evans 'lived the life of a country squire' in Deansgreen Hall - while his client lived in a 'modest detatched house', which was repossessed following his conviction.

He said Evans had a pair of shotguns worth £90,000 and a 'second hand' Rolls Royce, which he bought for £180,000, whereas Cairns only benefited by £50,000.

The court heard Evans was jailed for three years in 2003 after being convicted of an MTIC fraud. Cairns had committed 53 offences - mostly of fraud - over a 30-year period.

Mr Daw argued that, because of his lesser role in the money laundering, Cairns should not have been given the same sentence as Evans who, he said, had "weaved a tangled web".

Allowing the appeal, Mr Justice Underhill said, although Cairns was a "career fraudster", passing the same sentence on both men "could not be justified" because Evans' criminal conduct was worse.

He dismissed an appeal against conviction by Evans, saying there were "no arguable grounds" for contending the jury's verdicts were unsafe.