On the nature of fuel smuggling…

One of the most interesting sessions on organised crime in Westminster was this one. Sylvia Hermon leads off:

Q312 Lady Hermon: May I just take you to paragraph 14 of your written paper? There is a comment which jumped off the page as I was reading through it and that is: “Finally, it is important to note that while we believe the majority of illicit fuel is not sold through legitimate filling stations in Great Britain, our latest assessment is that a very significant proportion of the illicit fuel sold in Northern Ireland is sold through retail filling stations.” How on earth has this come about? Do people do it knowingly or willingly?

Mr Gerrard: I think there are a range of behaviours involved. Certainly once there is a volume of illegal fuel – be that smuggled fuel or be it laundered red diesel, mixed kerosene or whatever it may be – there is what you would term illicit sale through the use of tanks by the side of the road but most people will not buy fuel to put into their vehicles through those sites; most people will want to go to what looks like a legitimate filling station. Some of those individuals owning those sites will know they are buying illegal fuel because they are part of that criminal network. Some of them will have suspicions because they are buying fuel at a price that they cannot buy legitimately. Oil has a floor price; you cannot buy it legitimately below that floor price but this is often below that floor price and it is attractive. They may say they did not know, but they must have had suspicions. Equally there are people who will be buying fuel which is illegal but paying the full price, therefore they are completely unknowing of the fact that they are selling illegal fuel, so I think there is a range of behaviours involved. Our difficulty is that we engage in a good deal of enforcement activity targeting retail sites but our frustration is that we will seize fuel and where we can we will seek to prosecute people, but that site we cannot close down.

Q313 Lady Hermon: When you say “we” could you just tell me how big is the “we”? How many people are actually engaged in Northern Ireland – I mean exclusively in Northern Ireland – and actually going round testing fuel and seizing fuel in Northern Ireland? How big is your operation?

Mr Gerrard: In terms of testing the fuel which is done by our detection officers there is about 100 or 110 of those. In addition to that we have intelligence officers, we have criminal investigation specialists and we have non-compliance officers who will raise duty assessments. Over all we have just over 160 officers in Northern Ireland exclusively dedicated to oils activity.

Q314 Lady Hermon: What would help you in your investigations in Northern Ireland in dealing specifically with the retail side?

Mr Gerrard: I think there are two parts to that. There must be more that we can do to improve our inter-agency cooperations with the other agencies in Northern Ireland; I am absolutely certain of that. I am aware of a recent operation where we received fuel from a particular vehicle that was delivering fuel to the retail sites. It was delivering that fuel from the back of a normal truck, it was a skip with a tank in it. I am sure we have all seen when fuel is legitimately delivered to retail sites it is cordoned off and you have the hazchem signs because it is a very hazardous product. This is not; this is done through a hosepipe down to the floor. So there is something we can do with health and safety; there is something we can do around the quality of the fuel with the Trading Standards people; there are things we can do to improve our co-operation. From my perspective it is not my responsibility. When I look at what we do in GB it is very difficult for someone to get illegal fuel into legitimate retail sites because those sites are licensed. I have friends who work for the oils majors downstream and certainly one of my friends has been interviewed under caution twice and it terrifies her because of the potential health and safety issues at her retail sites in GB. That does not happen in Northern Ireland. I have been involved for six years in Northern Ireland and there is an issue about how those sites are licensed and are those licences effective for the 21st century; I would say that they are not.

Q315 Lady Hermon: We have heard evidence from another witness at another session of the Committee and that point was made, that the introduction of the licensing system in Northern Ireland would be very helpful. Having tabled the question I then had a reply from the Minister, Angela Smith, which is very disappointing but I will read it into the record: “Proposals to streamline a type of petrol licensing regime are currently being considered”; they are only now currently being considered and you say you have been working there for six years.

Mr Gerrard: Yes.

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  • The Devil

    Good old Sinn Fein/IRA so concerned about their political war chest that the profits from smuggled ciggs were not enough so caring deeply about their beloved voters they supplied them with ciggs that are proven to….

    “They contain more arsenic, more cadmium and more lead; they have more tar and produce more carbon monoxide”

  • Comrade Stalin

    The points being made by the government demand some questions.

    If the people selling dodgy fuel at filling stations are known then why aren’t they being arrested and those stations closed ?

    If the dodgy fuel stations are not known, then what is the basis for the claim that this is widespread ?

    Other than reforming fuel taxes, it appears to be that the easiest way to deal with this matter is to license fuel distributors and make it a serious criminal offence to buy fuel from an unlicensed dealer.

  • TAFKABO

    If the dodgy fuel stations are not known, then what is the basis for the claim that this is widespread ?

    It would be relatively easy to do a study of fuel sold in other regions with a similar population density and general background and compare levels of fuel sold legaly, and duty collected, reaching an indication of the types of sales one ought to expect.
    Then if the amount of fuel sold legaly fell far short of the expected amount, to conclude that there was widespread illegality taking place..

  • Comrade Stalin

    TAFKBO, I think that falls well into reasonable doubt territory. I’d like to see the numbers; do they account for levels of vehicle ownership, likely commuting distances, etc ? Are we also accounting for the entirely legitimate effect of people crossing the border to fill their tanks ? I imagine there are few car owners in Derry who would fill up locally.

    Also there is another side to that coin. The fuel comes from somewhere, and the government surely must be able to trace unusually high levels of red diesel being sold to certain places ?

    Moreover I’d have thought it would be straightforward for someone like the Assets Recovery Agency to examine the books of petrol stations and take a look at their revenues. A petrol station with unusually high revenues due to cheap fuel would clearly be setting itself up for investigation.

  • heck

    Maybe I’m wrong but I think this (criminality) is shaping up to be the next arms issue for unionists -an excuse not to share power with nationalists. I was wondering what it would be, thinking that it might be the issue of support for the PSNI/UVF, and recognizing that the “he called us nazis” excuse was going nowhere.

    When unionists said they would not share power with SF because of the lack of arms decommissioning I said many times on this site that it was an excuse not a reason. (And I was right!) Now that the issue of (IRA!!!!!) arms has be resolved to all but a few nut jobs unionism has been thrashing around for a new excuse. Some of the excuses have been ridiculous such as the Belfast Belly laugh’s headline that Fr Reid’s comments put the peace process in jeopardy, while others, such as support for the PSNI/UVF seemed promising.

    I guess unionists have realized that the PSNI/UVF issue can be resolved by Gerry Kelly attending a few police board meetings, so I think they have put this on the back burner.

    The criminality issue will always be here and no matter how innocent republicans are, unionists can always find some detail they don’t like. Even a drunken SF supporter getting into a fight in a bar will be used as an excuse. This is an excuse for unionists that keeps on giving. There is no way it can be resolved.

    Until the governments realize that the underlying reason there is no government in Nor Iron is unionist refusal to recognize the aspirations of 46% of the population as legitimate, and confront it, there will be no return to the GFA. They have to instruct unionists that their game is up and they must share power or they will face something they like even less-like JA. Unfortunately while honest Tony seems inclined to go down this road it appears that Hain doesn’t have the b****.

  • The Devil

    heck,

    “They contain more arsenic, more cadmium and more lead; they have more tar and produce more carbon monoxide”

    more like chemical warfare on the general population and especially their own support base and it’s ironic that the same people come here complaining that they are not allowed in Government… in Goverment! they should be in Maghaberry.

  • heck

    devil,

    of course the belong in maghabery–they are fenians after all

  • aquifer

    “If the people selling dodgy fuel at filling stations are known then why aren’t they being arrested and those stations closed ?”

    Absolutely right comrade.

    This whole thing is balderdash. Government needs to turn off this flow of cash to criminals, cash that would otherwise be paying for schools, hospitals, and the rest. They should insist that all sales of fuel to garages are registered online with them, and they should put sealed meters on every petrol and diesel pump in the country. Sounds like a lot of trouble, but gifting money to paramilitaries is likely to create more in the long run.

    Bertie never needed to fund the IRA. His tax rates on fossil fuels let the brits do it.

    And what about the other racket, the heating oil price fixing cartel in the republic?