Smuggler has his court debt slashed

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A £77,000 confiscation order against a Co Tyrone man in connection with millions of smuggled cigarettes is to be slashed to just £5,000, the Court of Appeal ruled today.

Senior judges reduced the cash amount recoverable from Henry Patrick McLaughlin after identifying flaws in the original process. But they rejected co-defendant Aidan Francis Grew’s challenge to being ordered to pay more than £600,000.

In 2008 both men were convicted of evading customs duty. The case against them centred on a consignment of smuggled cigarettes seized from a lorry and outbuildings in Co Armagh three years earlier.

McLaughlin, 53, from the Coalisland area, received a two-year suspended sentence.

A judge then ordered the recovery of £77,136 from him after finding he did not have a criminal lifestyle but had benefited from the cigarette importation. McLaughlin denied having any interest in the tobacco other than a £5,000 “fixed fee” for his involvement.

Ruling on his appeal, Lord Justice Deeny held no other evidence had been presented to justify a finding of benefiting from the scheme.

“He was given no opportunity to give evidence himself. He did not receive a fair hearing on this issue,” the judge said. Under the original order McLaughlin faced having to sell his family home. But Lord Justice Deeny pointed to a duty under the Proceeds of Crime Act for others with an interest in the property to have the chance to make representations.

Based on the passage of time, he decided against remitting McLaughlin’s case back to the Crown Court.

Instead, the judge imposed a substitute order for £5,000 to be paid within three months.

Grew, 61, from Blackwatertown, Co Armagh was contesting the £601,355 order made against him.

Dismissing grounds raised by his legal team, Lord Justice Deeny confirmed: “Aidan Grew’s appeal fails.”