MLA: £420,000 tax cheat should have been jailed

An Ulster Unionist MLA has said a lenient sentence handed down to a man who avoided paying over £400,000 in taxes could encourage others to evade taxes.

Bartley Murphy was given a suspended sentence after cheating HMRC of £422,000 over an eight-year period
Bartley Murphy was given a suspended sentence after cheating HMRC of £422,000 over an eight-year period

Earlier this week, Bartley Murphy, 53, of Ardglass Road in Downpatrick, was a given a suspended sentence after admitting a charge of evading £422,142 in taxes over an eight-year period.

Downpatrick Court – sitting in Armagh – heard on Tuesday that the father of four who is a builder and bar owner had 48 previous convictions which included low-level violence, receiving stolen goods and “non compliance with statutory regulations”.

UUP justice spokesperson Doug Beattie said: “One of the mitigating circumstances is the fact he paid this money back; however, if you look at the catalogue of crimes that this man is involved in I think the sentence is extremely lenient.

“While prison is not always the answer, for people who are habitual offenders – be that for low-level crime, be that for violence, be that for fraud, be that for tax evasion – sometimes the only thing that will put them straight is a custodial sentence.

“I have a tendency to feel in this case that he should have got a custodial sentence.”

He added: “The message this sentence sends out is that you can try and avoid tax if you want and you might get away with it, but if you don’t get away with it, pay it back and you’ll be alright.

“What we need to be saying is if you avoid tax deliberately then the law will come down on you.

“This is a prime example of where the law should have been a little bit stronger.”

Alliance’s Trevor Lunn was more forgiving in his assessment of the ruling.

The party’s justice spokesperson said: “As taxpayers, we should welcome this type of case and the recovery of £422,000 unpaid to HMRC.

“Hopefully Mr Murphy will learn the lessons of this experience.”

Asked if it was considering appealing the suspended sentence handed down to Mr Murphy, the PPS said it was too early to say.

The lord chief justice’s office was asked for an explanation of the ruling.

It said: “The judge commented in this case that the defendant had no previous convictions for this type of offence and this was not a case where individuals had been exploited or put at risk.

“He noted the defendant’s plea and also reflected on the implications of the defendant’s immediate imprisonment for others who are employed or indirectly employed in his business.

“In these circumstances the judge considered it appropriate to award a custodial sentence of two years three months suspended for a period of three years.

“The judge noted that a cheque had been lodged in court to cover the full amount owed.

“He also imposed an additional fine of £15,000 to mark the gravitas of the offending.”