HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has smashed a £26m cigarette smuggling operation based in Yorkshire.
The plot, which flooded the north of England with more than 150 million cigarettes and two tonnes of low quality tobacco, was masterminded by Doncaster men Daniel Harty and Billy-Jo Wall, who were sentenced to four years and six months in prison.
Their accomplices, brothers, William and Samual Tomlinson, Ben Kirk, Peter Lawrence and Jonathan Ellis, all from Retford, and John Sabin from Doncaster, received sentences of between five months and three years eight months in prison.
Under the direction of Harty and Wall the gang created a distribution network that transported millions of cigarettes throughout the north of England to warehouses, storage yards and farms. The shipments were then broken down into smaller loads and delivered to towns and cities across the UK to sell on the black market.
Sandra Smith, HMRC’s assistant director of criminal investigation, said: “This gang operated in a very professional way, importing and delivering smuggled cigarettes and tobacco with precision planning. They kept hand-written records and accounts and had developed an extensive customer base.
“Although they went to great lengths to conceal their business, with a determination to avoid being caught, we have brought them to justice, which will serve as a stark warning to others involved in the illegal tobacco trade.”
The men were arrested in early 2011 as part of a HMRC investigation codenamed Operation Hornbeam. HMRC officers uncovered the gang’s “safe house” discovering large amounts of cash and the gang’s customer order books in an under-floor safe, hidden beneath a spring loaded tile on the kitchen floor.
Officer’s also found paperwork, receipts and phone records along with forensic evidence linking all the gang members to the illegal operation. During the raid on one property officers found around a £250,000 in bank notes underneath a bed.
One of the gang’s customers, David Donaghey from Newcastle upon Tyne was sentenced to 40 months in prison after it was discovered he had received around 1.3 million illegal cigarettes, which he sold on the black market.