A West Yorkshire oil dealer has been jailed for three and a half years for selling illegally laundered fuel to unsuspecting customers.

Sixty-year-old Anthony Knight, of Styes Lane, Sowerby Bridge, operated an illegal fuel laundering plant capable of evading £1.6m in duty a year, an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed.

The fraud was uncovered when officers visited his business, Manor Oil Company, on Buckstones Road, Oldham, in August 2016, and found the laundering plant in an outbuilding. Knight told HMRC the unit was rented by a man named Tom, but investigations revealed this was a lie.

Storage tanks, equipment and 2,500 litres of red diesel were seized from the unit. Officers also found 24 tonnes of silica gel, which is used to strip the government markers from the diesel. A forensic expert estimated the silica gel would be able to launder approximately 1,000,000 litres of red diesel.

Suspicions were raised after HMRC’s Road Fuel Testing Unit visited a number of Knight’s customers and found traces of the laundered fuel.

Investigations found the laundering plant was capable of evading £1,680,000 duty over a 300-day period. The plant setup was estimated to be worth £135,000.

Knight admitted excise fraud at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court on May 9, but denied operating the plant, and claimed the plant was not active when discovered. At a trial of issue hearing on June 4, the court ruled Knight was fully culpable for the laundering plant.

He was sentenced to three and a half years in jail at the same court on July 4, and was also disqualified from being a company director for five years.

Proceedings are underway to recover the lost duty.

Timothy Atkins, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Knight conned his customers into buying illegal fuel which can damage car engines. He stole money which should have been used to fund our public services. He thought he could get away with it, but he was wrong, and now he is paying the price behind bars.

“Fuel fraud costs millions of pounds in lost duty every year and it creates an uneven playing field for honest businesses. Anyone with information about tax fraud should report it to HMRC online or contact our fraud hotline on 0800 788887.”