Northern Ireland

Two sentenced to jail for cigarette smuggling

Two men have been given prison sentences for their part in smuggling more than eight million cigarettes.

James Francis McDonnell, 41, of Ferryhill Road, Newry, County Down, was sentenced to five and a half years.

Arthur Michael Fearon, 21, of The Village, Jonesborough, was given two years in his absence.

The pair were apprehended when police and customs officials raided units at the Bridgeview industrial estate, Meigh, County Armagh in June 2010.

Important role

Several other people fled the scene and escaped over the border into the Republic of Ireland.

The sentencing followed the men's third trial for fraudulent evasion of duty, after two previous Newry Crown Court juries had failed to reach verdicts.

The court had heard that McDonnell had picked up a container from Butterly retail park, Dundalk, County Louth, and driven it to the Meigh industrial park.

Police and customs officers had begun checking units when a white box lorry crashed through the door injuring two policemen. The lorry was later found at Carrickcarnon, County Louth, with nearly five million cigarettes still inside.

The court also heard that neither defendant was one of the organisers of the smuggling operation but that McDonnell played an important role by transporting the cigarettes into Northern Ireland and Fearon had a significant role in moving the cigarettes from the container into smaller lorries.

The amount of UK duty that was evaded on the cigarettes was calculated as being £1,629,993.80.

During his sentencing remarks at Belfast's Laganside courthouse the judge quoted from an earlier court ruling that said: "This type of smuggling activity represents a heavy drain on the public exchequer, involves complex and expensive investigation, and results in criminals making substantial profits at the expense of the public and legitimate trade.

"Accordingly, we consider that it should normally attract a substantial deterrent custodial sentence."

Absence

The judge said McDonnell had played a vital and crucial role.

He added that McDonnell was assessed as having a low likelihood of reoffending and not presenting a significant risk of serious harm to others, and that any sentence would greatly affect his wife and young family.

The judge said the guideline for such cases, suggested a starting point of five to seven years, and in the circumstances he determined McDonnell's as six years.

He said that given his clear record, guilty plea, and the time taken, three trials, to resolve the case, he was prepared to make some modest adjustment of six months, making an effective sentence of five and a half years, half of which to be spent in custody and half on supervised licensed parole.

Commenting on an absent Fearson, the judge ruled that he should still be dealt with.

However, he added that since Fearon was still considered a 'child' under law at the time of the smuggling operation, case law provided for him to be sentenced as such, and to a term of detention, as a last resort and to the minimum period necessary.

In the circumstances, the judge imposed a sentence of two years detention, with one year to be served in custody and the other on licence.