Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 71 - 79)

WEDNESDAY 24 MARCH 1999

MR MIKE NORGROVE, MISS HEATHER MASSIE and MR BILL LOGAN

Chairman

  71.  Mr Norgrove, a very warm welcome to you and your colleagues. We have had the opportunity of meeting Mr Logan already in Belfast. I gather it might be helpful from your point of view to make a brief opening statement moving the narrative forward since we had the opportunity of meeting with Mr Logan and his colleagues in Belfast and you could introduce Miss Massie to us at the same time. I think we are able to identify who she is. The ground rules from our side, which I think are fairly familiar, are first that we do our best to make sure that questions are asked in a reasonably logical order but that does mean that we shall dot around the room, we will not necessarily go in a straight line around the room. We would appreciate it if you can answer as fully as you can in open session. If there are in fact things which you would rather say in restricted session then please do not hesitate to indicate when that would be the case and we can always have a restricted session at the end. It may well be either during this session or afterwards you would like to gloss some of the answers that you have given if you felt that there was any piece of them which appeared ambiguous or if you wanted to add any further information. In the same way we will do the same, if there are questions which we feel we have failed to ask you we will ask them after the event in writing. Finally, because the business has changed, and we are not taking now the business that we thought we were going to be taking at ten o'clock last night, we may I fear get interrupted by at least one or more than one Division during the period, in which case I am afraid we have no choice but to take a break. If you would like to make an opening statement please do not hesitate to do so.
  (Mr Norgrove)  Thank you very much for that. Could I begin by introducing on my right, Heather Massie, who is Head of Division from our Excise Policy Group in Manchester. I think people will know Bill Logan, our Collector from Northern Ireland. If I may just limit my opening remarks to, as you say, Chairman, updating the Committee on some of the matters raised in the memorandum of 22 December. Two principal updates have been required. The first, to reflect the change in duty rates in 9 March Budget, there are the 9 March duty rises to update the memorandum on. Secondly, paragraphs 17 and 18 of the memorandum of 22 December informed the Committee of our successes, our results in the two principal areas of anti-smuggling and the activities of the road fuel testing unit. I have received today the latest figures which take us up to the end of February. I have taken the liberty of passing those figures to the Clerk for onward transmission. If I could just highlight one or two of them, Chairman, to give a flavour?

  72.  Of course.
  (Mr Norgrove)  The number of successful prosecutions has gone from two to four, 13 cases are currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions, the number of arrests has gone up to 34. One or two more examples. The amount of fuel seized is now very nearly 584,000 litres and we have now seized 63 vehicles, so some encouraging progress in the two months that have intervened since our memorandum was submitted. As I said, the detail of those figures is with the Clerk for forward transmission.

  73.  Right.
  (Mr Norgrove)  If I may I will just limit my opening remarks to those, Chairman.

Chairman:  Thank you very much indeed. Thank you for your courtesy in bringing us up to date. Mr Donaldson has to leave after we have been going for a bit and therefore is going to open the questions from our side.

Mr Donaldson

  74.  You are very welcome to the Committee. Can I ask first of all in respect of your memorandum which you submitted to the Committee, you maintain that it is not possible to produce a robust estimate of the amount of road fuels being smuggled. However, what can you tell us about the number of prosecutions in 1998, I know you gave us some figures already for oil smuggling, the number of cases awaiting trial, the number of arrests, the quantity of oil seized and the additional quantity evidenced and the number of investigations in train at the end of the year, 1998?
  (Mr Norgrove)  Could I do that up to the end of last month, that is the most up to date figures we have.

  75.  Yes?
  (Mr Norgrove)  Yes, you are right we still do not have reliable estimates of the total scale of this problem but in response to your question on some of the detail, we have had four successful prosecutions in the financial year to date. 13 cases are currently with the Director of Public Prosecutions. There have been 34 arrests, 63 vehicles have been seized, I think that was one of your questions. The amount of fuel seized is 583,588 litres. We have admissions or documentary evidence of smuggling of some 24 and three quarter million litres of fuel. Finally, there are 18 ongoing investigations underway at the moment.

  76.  Can you just clarify, Mr Norgrove, what period those figures cover?
  (Mr Norgrove)  They cover from 1 April 1998 until 28 February 1999.

  77.  Of course, I should have known you operate on a fiscal year.
  (Mr Norgrove)  Yes.

  78.  Just that figure again, the largest figure you gave us on the amount of fuel?
  (Mr Norgrove)  Admissions of smuggling?

  79.  Yes?
  (Mr Norgrove)  In our December memorandum in paragraph 17 the description there was "admissions of smuggling" of just over 24 million litres, that is now up to 24 and three quarter million litres of oil.


 
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