Belfast Telegraph

Frustration over lack of jail sentences for fuel launderers in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

More than half of suspects who appear in court on fuel laundering charges in the rest of Britain end up with a custodial sentence.

It has led to questions as to why criminals in Northern Ireland are avoiding jail - despite our £80m fuel racket.

Earlier this week it emerged that Customs officials are busting an illicit plant every 10 days here, yet no one has been jailed in connection with laundering for over a decade.

Pat Curtis from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said the lack of jail sentences was a frustration, but said it was a matter for the judiciary.

"We have arrested a number of individuals in connection with alleged fuel laundering, and we continue to disrupt the trade. In the last year we dismantled 38 laundering plants.

"Sentencing is a matter for the judiciary. HMRC and the enforcement agencies refer the cases to the Public Prosecution Service for prosecution.

"I would say that 56% of cases forwarded on the mainland for similar offences end up with custodial sentences," he said.

New legislation which came into effect last year means HMRC can now appeal unduly lenient sentences.

Figures released by Justice Minister David Ford reveal that in the 12 months to April this year, 38 plants were dismantled, a threefold increase on the 2003/04 total. Mr Ford was responding to an Assembly question from Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend.

Despite the growing number of raids, few result in arrests or prosecutions, with no one jailed since 2002.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan commented: "Fuel laundering and the reckless dumping of the highly toxic waste products is totally irresponsible and very dangerous."

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