Belfast Telegraph

Clampdown on fuel laundering will take 20 years: Alex Attwood

By Tom Moseley

The fight against fuel laundering by organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland could go on for two decades, Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said.

He was addressing a committee of MPs at Westminster investigating the practice which deprives the Treasury of millions of pounds of revenue every year.

Mr Attwood told the Northern Ireland Affairs committee: "Do I think we can turn this around in a short space of time? Far from it. I think this is a 20-year commitment of governments across these islands."

Members of the committee have become increasingly frustrated in recent sessions by what they believe is a lack of tough sentences handed out to the perpetrators.

Officials have said the intimidation of jurors and potential witnesses is one key factor.

Yesterday it was revealed that officials are considering a non-jury trial in one current case to avoid this.

North Down independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon had proposed the measure where there was a risk of intimidation.

Fuel laundering is an illegal process whereby marker dyes are removed from red and green diesel, which is then sold to motorists or fuel retailers.

Yesterday, Justice Minister David Ford also gave evidence to the committee.

With just four jail terms for the crime since 2001, he admitted: "This is an issue where the public do not see significant deterrents."

Of the 47 prosecutions for fuel fraud between 2001 and 2009, 24 received a suspended sentence and six were fined.

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