Northern Ireland

Outspoken 'Bartley from Downpatrick' falls quiet after pleading guilty to not paying taxes

Bartley Murphy, who has 48 previous convictions, pleaded guilty to not paying his taxes
Bartley Murphy, who has 48 previous convictions, pleaded guilty to not paying his taxes Bartley Murphy, who has 48 previous convictions, pleaded guilty to not paying his taxes

“BARTLEY from Downpatrick” is how Stephen Nolan would introduce his outspoken, larger than-life contributor, who regularly aired his views on everything from planning matters to bonfires.

Bartley Murphy's nationalist background provided some balance to fellow phone-in mainstays like George from the Shankill and Norman from Bangor.

A builder and bar owner with 48 previous convictions, Murphy (53) of Ardglass Road narrowly avoided prison after he admitted cheating the revenue out of more than £400,000 in unpaid taxes.

Murphy is a critic of bureaucracy and heavy-handed regulation, offering a typically robust and uncompromising assessment of officialdom and red tape.

In 2006 comments he made during a BBC Spotlight programme were investigated by the Equality Commission.

It voiced concern at a series of controversial remarks to presenter Nolan about foreign workers and eastern Europeans in particular.

Murphy claimed eastern European men became violent under the influence of alcohol and told a Polish businesswoman, who had lived in the north for a decade, that she was a “visitor” in his country.

In 2013 he complained about flooding in Downpatrick which had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to his and other businesses.

No statutory agencies escaped his wrath. But since news of the 53-year-old’s prosecution for tax avoidance became public he has been absent from the airwaves. 

Murphy was told by a judge that he was suspending his sentence of two years and three months for a period of three years.

The father-of-four, who owns Murphy's bar in Downpatrick, had pleaded guilty to a single charge of cheating HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) out of taxes over an eight year period.

Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Antrim, heard that Murphy had pleaded not guilty to the charge last November when the tax bill he faced stood at £1.2 million.

But Judge Brian Sherrard heard that when his defence team engaged the services of a forensic accountant, and with the agreement of HMRC, that figure was reduced by two-thirds to £422,142.

Murphy was re-arraigned in March this year and pleaded guilty to the single charge of cheating the revenue on dates between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2015.

A cheque was lodged into court yesterday for the full amount owed which was result of the sale of his family home along with a £75,000 loan from brewers Bass to help settle his tax bill.

Prosecution lawyer Sam Magee told the judge that in 2014 HMRC tried to engage with Murphy by writing to him on six occasions over an 11 month period but "Mr Murphy was unresponsive...and did not play ball.''

The court heard Murphy was arrested at this then home at Demesne Road, Downpatrick in December 2015 and taken to Bangor PSNI station for questioning where he told tax investigators: "I have nothing to hide.''

He told investigators that after the property crash in 2007, he "struggled to keep himself above ground'', adding: "I am a good builder but poor with paperwork.''

The court heard that during this period "tens of thousands of pounds'' had flowed through his bank account yet he "did not pay any money in tax''.

Mr Magee said Murphy had 48 previous criminal convictions, which included offences of low level violence, one for receiving stolen goods and a number for "non compliance with statutory regulations''.

Defence counsel Eugene Grant QC said Murphy presently worked as a £25,000 a year contracts manager for a building company of which his wife Angela was a director and it was currently building 30 homes in Downpatrick with the potential to build a further 50 homes in the south Down area, employing 15 subcontractors on the house building project. "He is the lynchpin of the business,'' added the defence QC.

Mr Grant said numerous testimonies had been handed into court about Murphy's charitable work in the community, including a letter from a friend who told how the defendant had "once saved his life''.

Judge Brian Sherrad said: "This is not a case where individuals have been exploited or left out of pocket. Nevertheless this is a case in which our entire community has suffered. Revenue has a requirement for tax and tax is the fuel that keeps our society running, whether that is this court, the roads outside, hospitals or police stations. Tax is not optional.''

Telling Murphy that the custody threshold in his case had been passed, however, the judge said given his guilty plea and the effect Murphy's immediate imprisonment would have on subcontractors building new homes for his firm in the Down area, the judge said he would suspend the prison sentence of 27 months for a period of three years.

He also fined Murphy £15,000 "to reflect both the gravitas of your offending and also to mark that there is a real cost to anyone who does not comply with the civil process and to deter others from failing to engage with revenue at a timely and early stage''.