Northern Ireland news

Two south Armagh lorry drivers given suspended sentences for part in diesel fraud

Eric Murray was sentenced to 18 months suspended for two years

TWO south Armagh lorry drivers have been given suspended sentences for their part in a diesel fraud.

A Revenue & Customs investigation revealed a sophisticated fuel laundering operation with suspected higher-level players involved, though not before the courts.

Seventeen different vehicles were used to transport significant amounts of diesel across the border from Dublin to Belfast, evading tax duty.

Eric Murray (52), of Carrickasticken Road, Forkhill, pleaded guilty to multiple charges of diesel fraud on dates from October 2014 to November 2016.

He was sentenced at Newry Crown Court to 18 months suspended for two years.

A number of “significant aggravating factors” were identified in Murray’s criminality due to the repetitive nature of the offending.

Stephen Watters was sentenced to seven months suspended for two years

Stephen Watters (37), of Malachy Conlon Park, Crossmaglen, who has no previous record, also pleaded to knowingly evading duty on hydrocarbon oils June 29 2016.

He was sentenced to seven months suspended for two years.

Watters’ single evasion of duty amounted to £13,900.

The court heard that three tanks of fuel travelling from the Republic to Northern Ireland resulted in the evasion of more than £40,000 worth of duty.

More than 100 collections of diesel were under suspicion by customs, but the end location could not be determined.

Two other suspects are due to be questioned in the fraud investigation.

CCTV footage and phone triage were used to identify the drivers and the amount of transports each carried out.

A forensic trail showed that Murray was due a payment of £1,500 “by others not before the courts”, thought to be for one transportation at a time, though this could not be verified by the prosecution.

The co-accused were said not to be in the “higher echelons” of a fuel fraud criminal gang.

Judge Gordon Kerr alluded to pre-sentence reports showing Murray as a person with low IQ who “had got involved after being approached by a man”.

“He downplayed his involvement, he is a low likelihood of reoffending, said Judge Kerr.

“Watters has no relevant convictions and runs a garage business.

“He says that he was doing a favour for a friend and did not expect any financial reward."

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