The leaders of an organised crime gang, which operated a filling station as part of a £2.6m fuel scam, have been jailed.

Nine people, including the owner of a Belfast-based fuel supply company, have been sentenced for their part in the laundering, concealing and distribution of an estimated 4.5 million litres of red diesel after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

In a crime worth over £2.6m in lost duty and taxes the gang, headed by Robert Clarke (65), the owner of Clarke Fuels based on the Shankhill Road, and Mark Pollock (37), laundered millions of litres of red diesel for sale as legitimate road fuel to unsuspecting motorists.

At Laganside Crown Court on Monday 9 January, Clarke from Dundrod Road, Crumlin, was jailed for two years, and Pollock from Lyndhurst Grove, Belfast, was sentenced to two years and eight months. Both will be in custody for the first half of their sentences and will serve the second half on licence.

HMRC began investigating the gang in 2010 and over the next two years traced their illegal laundering activities, false paperwork trails and fuel distribution network, revealing a sophisticated organised crime network. As part of the investigation into the gang HMRC officers carried out searches of 13 commercial and private premises in Belfast and Co Antrim in June 2011 uncovering a mobile laundering plant, seizing more than £285,000 in cash and 74,000 litres of illicit fuel.

The investigation uncovered how Clarke had used his business to purchase huge quantities of red diesel, which was then laundered. Pollock oversaw the fraud, working with others to launder the fuel, dispose of the waste and hide the fraud behind a false paper trail.

Alan McVeigh from Forthriver Way, Belfast, another member of the gang previously sentenced, operated a filing station on the Crumlin Road on behalf of the gang and was selling laundered fuel as legitimate road diesel. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, suspended for three years, when he appeared at Laganside Crown Court on Monday 3 October 2016.

On 21 June 2011 HMRC officers entered a filling station in Belfast and carried out tests on the fuel. The road diesel on sale was found to be laundered red diesel. Alan McVeigh was arrested and interviewed. He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in September to the fraudulent evasion of Excise Duty contrary to Section 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.

Six other members of the gang had already received suspended jail sentences ranging from 11 years to 12 months.

Steve Tracey, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a determined, organised and sustained attack on the tax system, stealing public funds to line the pockets of criminals. Week in, week out, these crooks used apparently legitimate businesses to introduce huge quantities of laundered fuel into the region, attempting to hide the fraud behind a veneer of legitimacy.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illegal fuel market, which costs the taxpayer around £50 million a year and jeopardises the legitimate fuel retail trade in Northern Ireland. I encourage anyone with information on this type of fraud to contact our 24-hour hotline on 0800 595000.”