Suspended jail term forunder-the-counter cigs man

A MAN who admitted selling under-the-counter cigarettes over a four year period from his furniture business in Ballymoney has been given a suspended jail term.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2010, 1:49 pm

58-year-old Thomas Martin Murphy of Ballymena Road, Ballymoney, did not pay duty on the cigarettes being sold from the business in the town's Victoria Street, North Antrim Magistrates Court in Coleraine was told on Friday.

Murphy admitted selling cigarettes and tobacco on dates between July 2005 an June 2009.

When Customs and Excise officials raided the shop they found almost 6,000 cigarettes and almost 5,000 grammes of tobacco.

A prosecutor told the court that on June 11 last year customs officials went to the shop and a shop assistant produced a cardboard box from under the counter containing cigarettes and tobacco.

Other cigarettes were found in a kitchen area of the premises and cash was kept in bumbag below the counter.

The prosecutor said that when interviewed the shop assistant said she had worked in the shop for four years and cigarettes and tobacco were sold at the shop during that time.

The court heard it was estimated that 30 to 40 cartons of cigarettes and 100 pouches of tobacco were sold each week.

The defendant meanwhile, told officials the cigarettes and tobacco were his and he had bought the cigarettes for 20 per carton and 500 grammes of tobacco for 65 and sold the cigarettes at 2.50 a packet and a pouch of tobacco for 7.50.

Murphy told officials he bought the products from people coming back from holiday.

A defence lawyer said Murphy fully co-operated with officials and in fact had shown them cigarettes they had not initially found.

She said it was a "very low scale operation" which began four years ago when Murphy - who is not a smoker - went on holiday and afterwards when people returned from holiday with cigarettes he would buy them and sell them on.

She said the furniture shop is now closed and he sells furniture part-time from a store at the back of his home.

But the lawyer said Murphy is remorseful and embarrassed and knew he was doing wrong but the financial temptations were too much at a time when he was suffering hardship in his business.

She said it was a "very ad-hoc operation only operating during the summer months".

The lawyer said Murphy was due to travel abroad to his daughter's wedding after the court hearing but District Judge Richard Wilson said there was a chance he could be going to jail instead.

Mr Wilson told Murphy he knew what he was doing was wrong and that there was an evasion of duty to the government.

He said only were other holiday-makers making a profit by selling cigarettes to Murphy, he was too by facilitating the retail of the products to the public.

Mr Wilson said Murphy had no record for anything similar and suspended a three months jail term for two years and fined him 600 and ordered him to pay costs of 106.

Mr Wilson told the defendant if he is back in court for anything similar he will go to jail.