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Father and son jailed over home heating oil racket

Credit: Pacemaker

A father and son who ran a family heating oil firm have been jailed for defrauding customers out of £100,000 over a five year period.

Robert and Paul White were found guilty of fraud by false representation, whereby customers were shortchanged on their deliveries of home heating oil.

Passing sentence at Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Piers Grant told the pair their crimes were "clearly planned and premediated" against businesses and householders.

Robert White, 56, from Creightons Green Road, in Holywood, was handed a 15 month sentence and will spend seven and a half months in custody with the remainder on supervised licence following his release from prison.

The judge described him as the "main instigator" of the racket that saw 50 litres of a 500 litre delivery and 100 litres of a 1,000 litre delivery "stolen from customers over a five year period, put back on the truck and recyled to other customers giving you 100 per cent profit".

"This was easy for you to carry out but it was also difficult to detect," said Judge Grant.

He said, "This was a serious breach of trust between you and your customers who trusted a family run business and who they believed could be relied upon to deliver the appropriate quantity of fuel they had paid for".

"It was only by sheer good fortune that some of the customers had detected that they were not receiving the full amount of oil and the matter was reported to the police."

Paul White, 36, of the same address, was told he would spend six months in custody following by a further six months on licence.

The judge told him that he had a "lesser role" in that he had been involved in the fraud for four years but added that he had "actively participated" knowing that what was taking place was fraudulent.

Three members of the White family were convicted in relation to the oil skimming scheme Credit: UTV

His mother Wendy White, 56, also of Creightons Green Road, Holywood, had pleaded guilty to a single charge under the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act that on dates between January 1, 2010 and January 1, 2014 she "entered into or became concerned in an arrangement which she knew or suspected facilitated (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property".

Judge Grant told her that despite the seriousness of the offences she was being spared prison "by the skin of your teeth" and imposed a community service order of 150 hours.

He said that during the course of police investigations that "significant quantities of cash were found at the family home" which was the money the trio had made from the oil fraud.

Judge Grant said that her responsibility was the firm's book keeper and administrator whose was to make annual VAT returns to HM Revenue and Customs but had failed to do so.

He added that over a five year period the loss in VAT to HM Revenue and Customs was £33,230.

All three had no previous convictions for fraud but the judge told them, "You now have criminal records for serious offences."

Downpatrick Crown Court had previously heard that the oil fraud racket run by the Whites came to light in late 2013.

Prosecutor Philip Henry said the PSNI started an investigation after police received a complaint from Barr Hall residential home in Portaferry about the amount of oil it was burning, so decided to monitor the tank.

The court heard that on December 20, 2013 there were 900 litres in the 2,500 litre-capacity tank, with a delivery of 2,000 litres ordered for the next day.

Despite the fact the tank wasn't big enough, when officers dipped it following the delivery from D White and Sons, there was only 2,400 litres in it.

During follow-up searches at the firm's office and the defendants' homes, officers seized over £20,000 in cash along with numerous diaries, delivery dockets and invoices, adding that it is the police view that delivery figures and invoices do not tally up.

A diary was examined and contained various figures which officers believed was the amount of oil they were skimming off deliveries.

Defence lawyers for the trio denied that the fraud had been carried out to fund lavish lifestyle.

Judge Grant said that the family home was now up for sale and adjourned confiscation proceedings to recover the £100,000 defrauded from customers until March 2018