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£4m tax scam couple fail in bid to reduce prison terms

A couple who carried out Northern Ireland's biggest tax fraud have failed to have their jail terms reduced.

The Court of Appeal dismissed challenges by Patrick Gerard Small (56) and his wife Mary Elizabeth Small (50) over prison sentences imposed for operating a £4.5m scam over a 17-year period.

The couple, from Cullenramer Road, Dungannon, siphoned off cash and cheques from their builders merchants business and hid it in off-shore bank accounts.

The Smalls, who at one stage alleged their annual earnings amounted to less than £30,000 and claimed family tax credits to get by, used their gains to build 20 new homes, including their own 12,000 sq ft mansion.

Revenue officials who raided their home found nearly £500,000 in cash stuffed into a safe.

In February Mr Small was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years and his wife for two-and-a-half years.

They were also ordered to pay a combined total of nearly £4m by way of compensation.

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Lawyers for Mrs Small yesterday urged the Court of Appeal to lower her jail term due to her duty of care as a mother-of-three.

Mark Horner QC told the three-judge panel she wanted to ensure her children were properly brought up after she endured an unhappy childhood.

He also submitted it was her guilty plea which provided the “impetus” for the criminal case to be resolved.

But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said the trial judge had taken her maternal duties into account when passing sentence.

“We find no reason to interfere with the approach taken so far as Mrs Small is concerned and we dismiss the appeal.”

Her husband's appeal against sentence, based on his ill-health, was also rejected.

Sir Declan pointed out that Mr Small's original sentence had already been cut, partly as an act of mercy.

The judge also referred to the difference between the couple in accepting responsibility, with Mr Small appearing to waver for months over whether to contest the fraud charges.

“There is no reason to interfere with the view that the learned trial judge took in this case either,” he added.

As the couple were taken from court Mrs Small was allowed time for a brief embrace with her daughter before being returned to jail.

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