Bartley Murphy: Suspended jail term for builder who cheated taxes 'unduly lenient'
A SUSPENDED prison term imposed on a builder and pub owner for cheating the revenue out of more than £400,000 was unduly lenient, the Court of Appeal ruled today.
But senior judges in Belfast decided not to send Bartley Murphy to jail due to the legal principle surrounding double jeopardy.
However, they imposed a new fine of £200,000 after declaring the original £15,000 financial penalty "grossly inadequate".
Murphy (53) from Ardglass Road in Downpatrick, Co Down, pleaded guilty to a single count of cheating HM Revenue and Customs out of taxes over an eight-year-period.
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He had at first denied the charge when the bill he faced stood at £1.2m.
That figure was reduced to £422,000 amid the engagement of a forensic accountant and an agreement reached with tax authorities.
Last month a judge at Downpatrick Crown Court sentenced Murphy to two years and three months in prison, suspended for three years.
His decision was based on the businessman's guilty plea and the impact of immediate imprisonment on sub-contractors working for him.
The Director of Public Prosecutions referred the case to the Court of Appeal in a bid to have the sentence increased.
Liam McCollum QC, for the Director, said: "We say the sentence was unduly lenient."
Murphy's offending, between 2007 and 2015, was described unsophisticated.
A cheque has also been lodged for the full amount owed following the sale of his family home and a £75,000 brewery loan.
But Mr McCollum argued that none of the factors relied on for suspending the prison term amounted to the necessary exceptional circumstances.
Eugene Grant QC, representing Murphy, set out how his client had found himself under intense pressure at a time when the recession led to the collapse of the housing market.
"It's far from a case where there had been an overt deception or conspiracy," he submitted.
At one point Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan referred to Murphy having kept money due under a subcontractor scheme.
"In effect he was using the Revenue as a bank... to keep his business going," the judge said.
Ruling on the appeal, Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justice Deeny and Mr Justice McCloskey, acknowledged Murphy's charity work and the employment he provided.
However, they held that the proper sentence for the offences should have been 18 months imprisonment.
"We conclude therefore that the sentence was unduly lenient in terms of the suspension," Sir Declan confirmed.
Turning to the issue of double jeopardy, he said it came into play in a case where Murphy had to endure the anxiety of possibly being sent to prison for a second time.
On that basis the court decided to suspend the 18-month term for three years.
Sir Declan also substituted a £200,000 fine in place of the original £15,000, ordering Murphy to pay the amount within 12 months.