A Lincolnshire taxi driver who was caught with more than a tonne and a half of illicit tobacco has been sentenced after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Alan Clater, 62, was stopped by Wiltshire Police on the M4 near Swindon, during a joint operation in March 2013. After police spotted the tobacco, HMRC officers conducted a thorough search in the rear of the hire van he was driving and found boxes and bin liners containing 404kg of hand-rolling tobacco (HRT) and 1.199 tonnes of raw tobacco.

Clater, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, was found guilty of evading more than £260,000 in duty, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work. The tobacco seized was also ordered to be destroyed.

Colin Spinks, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “We will not stand by and let crooks rip off the law-abiding public, stealing money that should be being spent on vital public services. HMRC takes robust action to detect, disrupt and bring those who break the law before the courts.

“These offences have a devastating impact on honest retailers who have to compete with the black market and on the nation’s finances, with around £2bn lost in excise revenue each year.

“Anyone who suspects cigarettes or tobacco is being illegally produced, smuggled or sold can help us by calling the Customs hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

Inspector Steve Cox, roads policing operations team, said: “We work closely with HMRC to ensure the success of joint operations targeting criminals on the M4 corridor. Today’s sentencing is proof of how working together can bring positive outcomes for the public. We cannot underestimate the impact of this sort of crime on the public purse and it is only right that this man was not able to get away with it.

“Proactive operations with HMRC not only act as a deterrent but we can make a significant impact on the excise fraud that these criminals are committing.”