Four men, who tried to evade more than £1.3m in duty and taxes due on sales of almost six million illegal cigarettes, have been sentenced to a total of six and a half years in prison after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The investigation centred around four seizures of illicit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco over a six-month period beginning in February 2012. HMRC officers seized nearly six million illicit cigarettes and 14.5kg of hand rolling tobacco in Blackburn, Mansfield, Skelmersdale and Doncaster.

The men, David James Higham (61) and Michael Quinn (41) both from Skelmersdale, Ian Maurice Bosworth (62) from Nottingham and James Christopher Knott (44) from Doncaster pleaded guilty to their involvement in the distribution and sale of the illicit tobacco.

Higham was sentenced to three years in prison, Bosworth to two and a half years, and Quinn one year. Knott was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years and 200 hours community service.

Sandra Smith, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “These men were attempting to flood the UK with illegal cigarettes solely for their own financial gain. We will pursue those involved in this type of criminal activity and bring them before the courts.

“Tobacco smuggling is organised crime on a global scale. It encourages and supports criminality within our communities, denying our country millions of pounds of vital revenue every year.

“I would urge anyone with information about people dealing in illicit cigarettes or tobacco to contact us on 0800 595000.”