Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

UDA Killer Clarke avoids jail despite £4m diesel fuel racket

Loyalist handed suspended sentence for diesel scam

Robert Clarke
Robert Clarke
Fuel found at one of the premises
Thomas "Slab" Murphy
Mark Pollock

By Ciaran Barnes Chief Reporter

A millionaire loyalist murderer is laughing all the way to the bank after avoiding prison despite pleading guilty to a near £4m criminal cash racket.

UDA double killer Robert ‘Brooksy’ Clarke had an 18-month prison sentence suspended for two years when he appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court.

He admitted converting criminal property — a charge connected to the millions of litres of IRA-supplied illegal diesel that he sold from his old fuel yards near the International Airport and on Belfast’s Shankill Road which are no longer trading.

Customs officials who examined Clarke’s business accounts found that he laundered a staggering £3.7m from the ‘hands across the barricades’ scam between May 2010 and June 2011.

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Fuel found at one of the premises

The 67-year-old served a previous 12-month prison term for fraudulently evading customs duty connected to the racket. It was because of this time served that his latest sentence for money laundering was suspended last week.

When Sunday Life visited the veteran loyalist’s sprawling country home up a private lane off the Dundrod Road in Co Antrim, our path was blocked by electric gates fitted with security cameras.

Clarke’s £3.7m money laundering operation was busted in June 2011 when customs officers carried out 13 searches of commercial and private businesses in Belfast and Co Antrim.

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Among the properties raided were his fuel yards which sold illegal red diesel to the public that had been bought at knock-down prices from Provo smugglers in south Armagh linked to IRA chief Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.

Customs officers also uncovered a laundering plant on Clarke’s premises and 74,000 litres of illegal fuel.

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Thomas "Slab" Murphy

Further searches turned up £285,000 of criminal cash, £94,000 of which was discovered at the Co Antrim home of his loyalist sidekick Mark Pollock.

The 40-year-old, a son-in-law of veteran UDA godfather Jim Spence, had been running Clarke’s business since March 2011 when his boss was jailed for a historic UDA sectarian murder.

Pollock ended up being caged for 16 months for his role in the racket. His job was to oversee the laundering of the IRA red diesel Clarke had bought and transported from smugglers in south Armagh. Pollock was further tasked with disposing of the waste and hiding the fraud behind a fake accountancy paper trail.

A total of nine men and women were convicted for involvement in the scam including several individuals from republican strongholds in west Belfast and Coalisland. It was from this that the new £3.7m money laundering case arose and, knowing that the evidence against him was watertight, Clarke pleaded guilty to converting criminal cash at Belfast Crown Court last week.

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Mark Pollock

While he has managed to avoid jail with an 18-month suspended sentence, what is harder for him to escape is the fury of loyalists who have condemned him for doing criminal business deals with the IRA.

One ex-prisoner, who was in jail with Clarke, said: “Loyalists will be stunned when they find out Brooksy made £3.7m in the space of a year selling diesel he bought from the south Armagh IRA.

“There are murals and images all around the Shankill depicting atrocities carried out by the Provos, yet here we have a so-called UDA lifer in bed with them.

“It stinks and the community will be fuming. Brooksy should take a walk down the (Shankill) road and stop at the Shankill bomb memorial and see the damage his IRA business partners did to the people here, and ask himself was it really worth it?”

Until he was linked to Provo border smugglers, Robert ‘Brooksy’ Clarke was considered a legendary figure within the UDA having been sentenced to two life terms. The first was for the 1975 sectarian murder of innocent Catholic Margaret O’Neill.

The 58-year-old was walking down the New Lodge Road in north Belfast when she was gunned down by UDA men firing from a car.

They then opened up on a bookmakers’ shop, leading to their arrest by a passing Army patrol which gave chase.

Brooksy Clarke, then aged 24, was one of four WDA (Woodvale Defence Association) members convicted of the murder of Mrs O’Neill and jailed for life.

It was after being freed in 1990 that he set up his successful fuel business that would eventually make him a millionaire and lead to diesel deals with the IRA.

However, Clarke’s world came crashing down in 2011 when he was convicted of the 1973 killing of Italian ice-cream shop owner Alfredo Fusco (far left) in north Belfast. Fingerprints found on the York Road shop door at the time were tested again with modern methods and matched those of the ruthless loyalist hitman.

Because the killing occurred before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Clarke only had to serve a nominal two-year prison term and was freed in 2013.

It was while serving his sentence that customs officials raided his fuel yards in Co Antrim and Belfast, uncovering his multi-million-pound illegal diesel and money laundering rackets. The cases against Clarke are among the biggest ever undertaken by HMRC staff in Northern Ireland.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

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