Raids see no fuel fraudsters jailed
Almost 100 fuel laundering plants have been raided in Northern Ireland in the last three years, Stormont's Justice Minister has revealed.
David Ford said 99 fraudulent operations have been thwarted since justice powers were devolved to the power-sharing administration from Westminster in 2010.
But while 58 people were arrested in connection with the crimes, 22 of whom were convicted and with 32 cases pending, no one has ended up in jail.
Concern has been voiced that no one has received a custodial sentence for such offences for more than a decade, despite the fact fuel fraud cost the public purse millions in lost revenue each year.
Revealing the number of HM Revenue and Customs-led operations against the fraudsters since he came to office, Mr Ford claimed the forthcoming introduction of new legal powers could result in stiffer sentences.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, will from next month have the ability to refer sentences for fuel and tobacco fraud to the Court of Appeal for review if he feels they are unduly lenient.
Mr Ford said that has the potential to set new precedents for sentencing.
"Since April 2010, the same time as the devolution of justice, there have been 99 cases of fuel laundering plants demolished in Northern Ireland. We have seen 58 people arrested: 22 have been processed through the courts, 32 are awaiting prosecution," he said.
"What we have now got in place is the opportunity for unduly lenient sentences to be referred by the director of public prosecution to the Court of Appeal so we may well see stiffer sentences in the future.
"W hat I think is absolutely necessary is we send out a clear message that this kind of crime is not acceptable."