A convicted Co Tyrone fraudster — who was behind a massive £4.5m tax evasion scam — has died after reportedly choking on a piece of food and taking ill at a newly reopened restaurant.
Gerry Small from Cullenramer Road in Dungannon collapsed at Salley’s Bar and Restaurant in Aughnacloy at around 5pm on Saturday evening while dining with family members.
The popular restaurant on Moore Street had only reopened to customers the previous day after easing of the coronavirus lockdown.
Fellow diners and staff performed CPR on Mr Small until the emergency services arrived.
A spokesman for the restaurant told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday: “Police and ambulance staff spent around an hour fighting to save Mr Small before realising there was nothing they could do for him.
“We don’t know whether he had a heart attack and choked or choked and had a heart attack.
“The staff who were working at the time coped very well in the circumstances and they carried on for the rest of evening but I think the enormity of what happened kicked in later on.
“We have spoken to family members and conveyed our sympathies to them on their sad and tragic loss.”
The PSNI confirmed officers had attended the scene of the sudden death of a man at Moore Street in Aughnacloy on Saturday.
The death of Mr Small, who had a number of pre-existing medical conditions, is not being treated as suspicious.
His death is the second loss for his family in recent weeks as his brother Dominic Small passed away in April.
Fermanagh-South Tyrone Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew extended her sympathies to the Small family yesterday.
“I know the entire family well and my thoughts are with them at this difficult time,” she said.
The 66-year-old and his wife Mary were jailed for a total of six years in February 2010 after admitting Northern Ireland’s biggest tax fraud of more than £4.5m over a 17 year period.
The couple, who have three children, ran a business under the name of Greystone Builders’ Merchants and were later ordered to pay a combined total of nearly £4m by way of compensation.
At the time the Public Prosecution Service said it was the largest case of its kind to come before the Crown Court in Northern Ireland.
During the case it emerged that the couple had siphoned off cash and cheques from their business and hid the money away in undeclared off-shore bank accounts.
Revenue officials who raided their home found nearly half a million pounds in cash stuffed into a safe.
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 a 12,000 sq ft mansion.
At one stage their extensive property portfolio, including the houses, unbuilt housing and building land was worth nearly £7m.
The Inland Revenue opened its inquiries because of concerns about money being concealed which helped fund the couple’s lifestyle and they were arrested in November 2005.