A Derbyshire man, who was caught red-handed unloading more than eight million cigarettes from a shipping container that was supposed to be carrying tables and chairs, has been jailed for four years.

Stewart Grainger was arrested by officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) after he was caught unloading the non-UK duty paid cigarettes, worth around £1.75m in unpaid excise duty and VAT, after they had been delivered to an industrial unit in Ripley.

The container, which had arrived into the Port of Felixstowe from Kuala Lumpur in April 2012, was transported to the Asher Lane Business Park, where Grainger broke its seal and began unloading the cigarettes. However, when HMRC investigators and officers from Derbyshire Police raided the unit, Grainger fled but he was arrested five days later.

Grainger, who works as a lorry driver, was found guilty of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty after an earlier trial and was sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court

Stuart Taylor, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Grainger was caught taking delivery of millions of smuggled cigarettes, which he wrongly thought would not be detected as the shipment was marked up as furniture.

“This type of criminal activity harms the livelihoods of honest shopkeepers, but disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2bn a year. This shipment alone would have evaded £1.75m in revenue, much needed money that should be funding public services not lining the pockets of a few criminals. Don’t let them profit – report it.

“Anyone with information about the storage or sale of illegal tobacco in their area should contact the Customs hotline on 0800 595000.”