Lorry seized by Customs hi-jacked and set alight

June 7, 2011

By Brónagh Murphy

A lorry hijacked and set on fire outside Crossmaglen on Thursday evening was being driven by an Irish Customs officer who had got lost and inadvertently strayed across the border, The Examiner can reveal.

The 40ft trailer carrying a fuel tank had been seized in a joint Customs and Gardaí raid at a laundering plant close to the border at Drumacon, Castleblayney earlier in the day.

It appears the driver became separated from a convoy removing items from the raid site when he took a wrong turning and crossed the border into south Armagh.

It was on the Blayney Road, at the junction of Loughross Road, on the outskirts of Crossmaglen when the hijack occurred.  A group of men forced the lorry to stop and hauled the driver from the cab before dousing it with petrol and setting it on fire.  Fearful for his safety, the driver made off across nearby fields.  He was removed from the scene by PSNI officers some time later.

A spokesperson for Irish Revenue and Customs said the driver was shaken but uninjured.

“Revenue is taking this incident very seriously and will investigate the matter. Needless to say, the officer involved is shaken after his ordeal,” the spokesperson said.

Confirming the incident, a PSNI spokesperson said police are investigating the hijacking.

“It’s understood that a trailer, which was being transported by the Irish Revenue Customs Service following an oil laundering operation in Monaghan, was hijacked and subsequently set alight on the Blayney Road just before 7pm.  The Customs Officer driving the vehicle was unhurt but shocked following his ordeal.  Inquiries are continuing,” a PSNI spokesperson said.

Fire crews from Crossmaglen and Newtownhamilton battled to extinguish the blaze which threatened a nearby house.  The property suffered scorch damage and  broken windows. The road was closed during the incident and again for most of Friday to facilitate the removal of the charred shell of the vehicle.

Lough Ross supply threatened by fuel plant’s toxic waste

It’s believed the raid at Drumacon was the culmination of a lengthy intelligence-led operation involving police and customs on both sides of the border.

The raid began around 6.30am on Thursday when armed Gardaí and Customs officers swooped on the site, which appeared to be a car and truck scrapyard.  They found a sophisticated, large-scale operation which, they say, was capable of laundering an estimated 20 million litres of fuel annually.  The area was sealed off and a major search operation continued throughout the day.

Around 37,000 litres of laundered fuel were found, and about 200 bags of bleaching agent along with three skips filled with toxic sludge.  Equipment such as pumps and hoses used in the laundering process was dismantled and seized.

Monaghan County Council is investigating whether the local Lough Ross water scheme in south Armagh may have been contaminated by the toxic sludge.

Kieran Duffy, senior executive engineer with Monaghan County Council, said the case was one of the worst he had seen.

“There is total disregard for the environment . . . they built a purpose drain beside the facility to take the run-off from the site. It is crazy; if it got into a stream it would kill fish and plant life, the concern is it’s quite close to the Lough Ross scheme; we have to do more investigations to see if that is the case,” he said.

Meanwhile a man in his forties arrested by Gardaí during the raid on the laundering plant was released without charge pending further enquiries.