Crackdown on fuel gangs

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Lisburn Councillor Robbie Butler has called on the Stormont Justice Minister to implement “a hard-hitting crackdown on criminal gangs involved in fuel smuggling”.

Mr Butler warned that the Exchequer was not the only victim in this crime. “Car owners may buy diesel at a cheaper price, but they are not all committing a criminal offence,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is that the current legislation allows Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to seize their cars almost immediately, under the suspicion that they have been running them on illicit fuel.

“However, it is far harder for HMRC to prosecute the seller and the retail site for what they have been peddling. The fuel in question is highly illicit and highly dangerous. It can damage cars and cause massive environmental damage to surrounding areas.

“Anonymous calls from the public have helped combat these criminals, but we have to realise that, for the ordinary individual, there is no central system in our judiciary that will handle a reported crime of laundered fuel.

“If any of us had a suspicion that we had just filled our car with illicit fuel, we could phone the Trading Standards Service, HMRC or the Consumer Council and they would all start to pass you round in circles before anybody would take action or come down on the retail site in question.

“From Northern Ireland, the UK Exchequer is losing some £200 million annually from illicit fuel sales. Then we have the damning statistic that there have been only four custodial sentences.

“The Stormont Justice Minister and his department must face the harsh reality that illicit fuel laundering and tobacco smuggling are not carried out by normal burglars or criminals.

“If we are genuine about tackling fuel smuggling, we should look at extending petroleum licences to cover not just petrol but diesel spirits. The use of acids or cat litter to remove dyes must be combated.”