Normally, it’s that time of year when HMRC reveals how many illicit fuel laundries it has closed during the last financial year but this time, the revenue collector appears to be delaying publication of the figures somewhat.


In recent weeks, our enquiries on the subject have met with a variety of put-offs, from the election 'purdah' (which doesn’t normally apply to the publication of routine statistics) to staff absence (our usual contact wasn’t there and nobody else could help).

The government agency’s latest response (now that our contact is back) is that the figures won’t be made available “for a few weeks”. No real explanation for this delay has been provided.

The figures will undoubtedly make for interesting reading when they do arrive, however.

Last year (2013-2014), HMRC shut down 44 laundries, of which 38 were in Northern Ireland and six in Great Britain. That was a substantial (near 70%) increase on the previous year, when a total of 26 laundries were dismantled, four of which were in Great Britain.

So severe is the illicit fuel problem that a couple of months ago, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly voiced open alarm at the “widespread presence” of both fuel laundering plants and illicit filling stations in border regions in Ireland, calling for more serious penalties for those involved.

Its comments prompted the FTA to describe current penalties as “a drop in the ocean” that criminal gangs simply take as an overhead.

Both the FTA and RHA have been highly vocal in the past in calling for a more punitive approach to those caught producing or dealing in illicit fuel, as have many individual tax-paying truck operators.

Should the latest HMRC figures, when they do finally come out, show another 70% rise in the number of illicit fuel laundries discovered during the latest year, we suspect these calls can only grow much louder.