News story

‘Most Wanted’ cigarette smuggler jailed

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A convicted cigarette smuggler who featured on a list of Most Wanted tax fugitives this summer has been found.

After being named on HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Most Wanted list, Michael ‘Arthur’ Fearon, 21, from Newry, handed himself in to the authorities in Northern Ireland. He is now in HM Prison Magheraberry serving a sentence for tobacco fraud.

Fearon was arrested on 29 June 2010 and pleaded ‘not guilty’ in March 2012 to a charge in connection with the suspected evasion of excise duty on nearly 8.4 million cigarettes – costing the UK over £1.6 million in duty.

However, Fearon absconded during his trial on 19 September 2012.

He was tried in his absence and found guilty and a warrant was issued for his arrest. On the 25 October 2013 he was sentenced as a minor to one year imprisonment and one year on licence.

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, said:

The vast majority of hardworking people pay their taxes, but it is absolutely unacceptable that a minority tries to cheat the Exchequer. Its good news that this particular fraudster has handed himself in, but there are still others on the Most Wanted list on the run. Our message to them is clear: HMRC is looking for you and it will find you.

Donald Toon, Director of Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:

Fearon thought he could go on the run to avoid facing justice – but he was wrong. We relentlessly pursue tax fugitives and ensure they face the consequences of their criminal activity, and after over a year on the run, Fearon has done the right thing.

If anyone has any information on any of our other Most Wanted fugitives, I urge you to contact us via our Customs Hotline on 0800 595 000, so they can pay for their crimes.

Fearon handed himself in at Musgrave Street Police Station, Belfast on 7 November 2013 and later appeared before His Honour Judge Stevens sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice Belfast before being transported to HM Prison, Magheraberry to serve his sentence.

He is the fourth of HMRC’s Most Wanted tax fugitives to be brought to justice since the list of criminals was published last year.

More information on the case

Michael Fearon, 12/08/1992, The Village, Jonesborough, Newry, was found guilty in September 2012 of Evasion of Excise Duty, contrary to s170 of Customs & Excise Management Act 1979, on 8.38 million Benson & Hedges Gold cigarettes (which were found to be counterfeit).

On 29 June 2010 HMRC and Police Service of Northern Ireland officers attended a small industrial site at Low Road, Meigh, near Newry where they suspected a container load of cigarettes had been delivered. While trying to gain access to one of the sheds, a box van crashed through a roller shutter door and knocked down two PSNI officers, causing serious injuries to one of the officers. The box van sped off into the Republic of Ireland where it crashed and the driver fled. The box van was found to contain five million cigarettes. A number of other men fled the shed but HMRC officers detained two of them – Michael Fearon and James McDonnell, and found almost four million cigarettes which were in the process of being off-loaded from the HGV.

The driver of the HGV lorry who transported the full load to the shed, James McDonnell, 10/11/1971, Ferryhill Road, Clontigora, Newry, was found guilty during a third trial on 12 September 2013.

Fearon was 17 years and 10 months old when arrested and was therefore sentenced as a minor.

On 25 October Fearon was sentenced at Laganside Crown Court, Belfast by Lord Justice Stephens to one year in jail and one year on licence. McDonnell was sentenced to two years and nine months in jail and two years and nine months on licence.

Anyone with details on any of the Most Wanted fugitives can contact HMRC’s Customs Hotline on 0800 595 000 (UK callers), 00800 555 95000 (callers from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands), 900 988 922 (callers from mainland Spain), 0044 208 929 0153 (callers from any other country).