A tobacco smuggler who tried to bribe police to “look the other way” has been jailed.
Thomas Griffiths, 53, of Durham Street in Spennymoor, County Durham, was stopped at a self-storage site in nearby Thinford in May 2012 by officers from Northumbria Police, who found 40 kilogrammes of duty-free hand rolling tobacco in the boot of his car.
Griffiths was arrested on suspicion of excise duty evasion and officers from HMRC began an investigation.
Two nearby storage units, one of which was linked to Ronald Allinson, from Seaham, County Durham, were searched and a total of 72 kilos of tobacco and 176,000 cigarettes which duty hadn’t been paid on were discovered.
At Newcastle Crown Court, Griffiths was jailed for 10 months for fraudulent evasion of excise duty. Allinson, 59, of Heathway in Seaham, had a 10-month prison sentence suspended for a year for the same charge.
After the case, Diane Donnelly, assistant director of criminal investigation for HM Revenue and Customs, said: “Thomas Griffiths has a prior conviction for involvement in illegal tobacco trading; yet he continues to show a blatant disregard for the law. He has, along with others, attempted to make a sizeable criminal profit at the expense of the UK taxpayer.
“HMRC is determined to clamp down on those individuals who continue to flood local communities with illegal tobacco, and we ask anyone who knows of people involved in this trade to let us know by contacting the HMRC hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
Following Griffiths’ arrest, HMRC searched a nearby storage container and found 50 kilos of tobacco. Officers also found a mobile phone and set of keys which unlocked a second unit leased by Allinson. This unit contained 22 kilos of tobacco and 176,000 duty free cigarettes. Allinson was arrested in July 2012.
The excise duty and VAT evaded on the 112 kilos of tobacco and 176,000 cigarettes was £54,564.
The case comes just a few days after three men from the North East who claimed to sell tin foil, soap powder and suntans for a living were jailed for illegally distributing more than 600 kilogrammes of counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco.
Justin Reay, 41, from Canterbury Avenue in Wallsend, was jailed for 20 months; Paul Gerard Watson, 53, of Blyth Street, Seaton Delaval, was jailed for 27 months and Clifford James Johnston, 53, of Northumberland Road in Berwick, was also jailed for 27 months after the HMRC investigation.