Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
1 FEBRUARY 2006
Q80 Dr McDonnell: How bad does it
have to get before the Government say "We need money for
things in Northern Ireland and here is £350 million a year"
or whatever that figure is? How long are they prepared to let
this go on?
Mrs Smith: Some time ago when
I was National Chairman of the Road Haulage Association I wrote
a letter to the Treasury and I asked the Treasury to look at the
harmonisation of fuel on the island of Ireland to try to take
away the monies that were going in to fuel organised crime. My
suggestion to him then was: "You are going to get your £350
million back into the Exchequer and the resources that you are
currently wasting chasing around after these fuel tankers that
are crossing the borderand remember there are probably
more fuel tankers in Northern Ireland operating illegally than
legallyyou can put those resources to the ports for instance
and you can try to stop us exporting the problems that we have
to the UK and you can use your resources better elsewhere."
The return letter I got from Mr Healey said that because of European
legislation that was something that the British Government could
not do. I still believe that it is a possibility and I think the
European Union would probably look quite favourably on something
that is going to help Northern Ireland out of its present problems.
I think that one of the Scottish MPs has actually brought to Parliament
that he would like to see some dispensation on fuel duties for
the highlands and islands and he has gone back to France who I
think have managed to give something for some area in France.
I am saying I think these things are possible. The Government
paid to bring across a professor from the United States to give
them advice on how to defeat organised crime in Northern Ireland
but they do not listen to what he has to say. They are really
only tipping the iceberg with the measures that they are taking
at the minute.
Q81 Sammy Wilson: Is there not a
difficulty with what you are suggesting insofar as Northern Ireland
is 22 miles from Scotland; hauliers in Scotland would then say
the differential in fuel rates give hauliers in Northern Ireland
an unfair competitive advantage to them? At what point do you
stop this rolling across? You have made a fairly important point
but I just want to know how you answer it?
Mrs Smith: For a start you put
a timescale on it. You give a timescale so that the Government
could put the money it is saving into other resourcesin
defences, the PSNI and the Organised Crime Task Forceto
try to defeat organised crime. At the minute there is smuggling
going on to the UK mainland. There is an accident waiting to happen.
Hauliers are coming over from the UK who never came into Northern
Ireland or Southern Ireland before, they are bringing loads in
because they know they can pick up cheap fuel in Southern Ireland
and they are not just taking out cheap fuel in their tanks, they
are taking cheap fuel out in the trailers they are bringing out
as well. At some stage there is an accident going to happen. There
is something going to happen to one of these ferries; there is
the possibility of one of these ferries going to the bottom of
the Irish Sea. It is happening all the time but at least if you
can put all your resources onto the ports you can catch what is
going on and what is being exported out of Northern Ireland and
Southern Ireland into the UK and stop that happening. Hauliers
are buying their fuel in Southern Ireland now. They are doing
it legally but they are doing it to survive. Every country knows
that Northern Ireland needs it haulage industry; that is how it
moves its goods. We have to support our haulage industry and at
the minute if our haulage industry was not buying its fuel in
Southern Ireland we would not be competitive.
Q82 Sammy Wilson: You have talked
about how long it takes to get a case to court and the lack of
action by HM Revenue and Customs, is there any indication that
that is because the officers cannot operate in areas where much
of this fuel laundering is occurring due to threats and therefore
need police back up and that is not available to them?
Mr Wilson: I have not heard that
personally as a reason but I do believe that is probably correct.
Therein lies the question: how good is the communication between
Revenue and Customs and PSNI? I am not sure personally; I just
do not know if they were really well coordinated collectively
together whether they would have more results. Another point mentioned
earlier, we talked about the increase in crime I think with the
peace process coming along there is much less evidence of troops
and police on the ground on a daily basis. It used to be that
on every corner you saw the armed forces and thankfully now that
is not the case but that makes it so much easier for these guys
Q83 Chairman: You heard the evidence
we had earlier this afternoon and the gentleman from the Federation
of Small Businesses said that he felt that there were two mafias
operating in Northern Ireland. Did you hear that evidence?
Mr Wilson: Yes.
Q84 Chairman: One from each side
of the sectarian divide. Do you believe that is the case as well?
If it is, what is their involvement in the subject we are currently
Mr Wilson: Personally I do not
have the experience to comment on that. I read what I see in the
papers and there have been some high profile cases of people who
appear to have been living a very high lifestyle having come from
very meagre upbringings and they have come to the attention of
the authorities or come to the attention of other people who did
not want them to stay around for much longer.
Q85 Sammy Wilson: There are parts
of Northern Ireland where currently it is well-known that cigarettes,
for example, are not taken over the border they are shipped to
Liverpool and then back. Maybe you could tell us the difficulties
in putting high value loads across the border.
Mrs Smith: The hijacking that
took place on the border was my company and it was my security
officer who found our vehicle because the police would not go
into the area where the stolen vehicle was taken. Our company
no longer transports the goods across the border but the goods
are not taken via the UK to Dublin. That is still happening because
the threat is still felt to be such that it is not safe to take
those cigarettes across the border.
Q86 Sammy Wilson: You mentioned that
you recovered the load that was stolen in west Belfast. What kind
of cost does that impose on a company like your own to put those
security measures in place?
Mrs Smith: Absolutely huge. We
are spending phenomenal amounts of money. We have to track all
our vehicles. We have to have our own control room.
Q87 Chairman: How many vehicles do
Mrs Smith: We have over 50 vehicles
in Northern Ireland; we also operate in Southern Ireland as well
so I have experience of what goes on on both sides on the border.
We have to track all our vehicles, we have to monitor them from
our own control room and we also have two full time people out
on the road doing ad hoc tracking for vehicles. In certain areas,
as I say, we would not send a vehicle in to deliver cigarettes
in particular without a helper on the vehicle.
Q88 Chairman: Could you just answer
my earlier question about paramilitary involvement?
Mrs Smith: If I told you that
my vehicles get hit all over Northern Ireland, it is not just
in one particular area, but there are certain areas in Northern
Ireland where it is much more difficult to deliver in and the
drivers themselves know when they are picking up tails and when
they know there are people watching them. It is very organised;
you have to see these things to believe them. It is from both
sides of the community.
Q89 Mr Fraser: Going back to the
point you were just making, Mrs Smith, in 2003 you had a security
seminar and there was a DC Kerr who admitted that the road haulage
industry was not at the top of police priorities despite its obvious
links to organised crime. At that time certain initiatives were
set up, one of which you perhaps alluded to just now, the National
Stolen Lorry Load Help Desk and the other one was TruckPol.
Mrs Smith: They are here in the
UK, not in Northern Ireland.
Q90 Mr Fraser: When one looks at
how such things have been set up, how would you use such a group
or organisation or entity like that to help yourselves in Northern
Ireland if you could?
Mrs Smith: We do have links with
other haulage companies. We have an association where we do speak
to one another and we do have meetings with the police. People
who are involved in the distribution of high value goods and the
warehousing of high value goods would have regular meetings with
the police. We do have some communication happening there.
Q91 Mr Fraser: Is it effective?
Mrs Smith: I know that the people
I speak to work tirelessly to try to defeat organised crime but
the resources are limited and the problem we have now in Northern
Ireland is that we do not believe the PSNI have the resources
to do the job and defeat organised crime.
Q92 Mr Fraser: Another point with
regard to evidence given by your organisation to the Transport
Select Committee in November 2005 was about the automated facility
to notify Truck Watch within minutes of a stolen report. Are you
aware of that?
Mrs Smith: Yes.
Q93 Mr Fraser: They then go on the
police national computer. What representations have been made
Mrs Smith: Because we are a high
value goods company we do have links into the police control room
so when this happened a couple of weeks ago our control room contacted
the police control room in Northern Ireland and it was my control
room that led the police to where the vehicle was.
Q94 Mr Fraser: Am I correct in saying
that this scheme is presently stalled?
Mrs Smith: In Northern Ireland
or in the UK?
Q95 Mr Fraser: Generally in the UK,
but do you know any more than that?
Mrs Smith: I could not bring you
up to date. I can certainly get some more information; I can get
someone from the RHA who is involved in what you are asking and
get them to update you on it. I know in Northern Ireland we have
worked very hard. No matter how much effort we have put into the
high value goods haulage that I represent we are still not winning.
Organised crime is still there and it is still defeating us. If
you go back to what happened in Northern Ireland in 2004 where
you had the Northern Bank robbery, prior to that two other companies
took substantial hits from the organised crime gang and in fact
it was stated publicly that the gang who hit those two companiesone
of which was my ownactually robbed the Northern Bank. Not
one person has been apprehended for the robbery on our premises
and not one case that was stolen has been found.
Q96 Chairman: What did they do and
what did they take?
Mrs Smith: It was a type of kidnap
and they held one of my staff and his family hostage. He was made
to do certain things and they eventually came to the depot and
he loaded a trailer of cigarettes. Over £2.5 million of cigarettes
were stolen. Not one case, not one packet has been recovered and
not one person has been apprehended. You are asking here, what
do we need to do in Northern Ireland? If we do not apprehend the
criminals and if we do not bring them to the courts and if we
do not put them away we are never going to win in Northern Ireland.
Q97 Chairman: A moment ago you were
blaming lack of police resources. Is it just a question of resources
or do you have the impression that the police are not interested
in this aspect of things?
Mrs Smith: It is obviously in
the interests of the police in Northern Ireland to cease organised
crime. They want to do that. I would believe they do not have
the resources having unfortunately experienced serious robberies
and serious hijackings. I can see that they do not have the resources
to be able to do anything about it.
Q98 Chairman: Have any of the people
who have perpetrated crimes against your company been apprehended?
Mrs Smith: No.
Q99 Chairman: Not one?
Mrs Smith: No.