Three people from the West Midlands have been sentenced for their role in a £1.7m tobacco smuggling ring.

Jian Ning Yang, from Dudley, and Alan Nesbeth and Renna Graham, both from Bilston, were arrested after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) seized more than nine tonnes of non-duty paid tobacco concealed in boxes containing Chinese tea.

Nesbeth, 53, was apprehended by HMRC officers outside a self-storage facility in Wednesbury in May 2013. Officers found the consignment of 9.425 tonnes of tobacco in a lorry, which was being unloaded into two hire vans and a nearby garage. Nesbeth had hired the storage unit two weeks before the delivery of tobacco that was found among a load of Chinese tea. The duty evaded on the seized tobacco was £1,628,074.

After a search of his home, the trail led investigators to Jian Ning Yang, 28. He had been stopped on previous occasions with non-duty paid tobacco and cigarettes. A search of his address revealed £38,175 in cash - £9,000 of which was found hidden inside a freezer, large quantities of tobacco and Amber Leaf pouches, and paperwork showing payments made to storage and courier firms.

Renna Graham, 63, came under investigation after she was stopped in August 2012 in a vehicle with Nesbeth with non-duty paid cigarettes. A search of her home revealed more than 2,600 duty free cigarettes.

Yang pleaded guilty to evading excise duty, but Nesbeth and Graham denied the charge against them and were found guilty after a trial in August 2014.

On 4 September at Wolverhampton Crown Court Nesbeth was sentenced to five years in prison, Yang was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and Renna Graham was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended for 18 months and received a four-month curfew from 8pm and 8am.

Colin Booker, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “This highly organised, criminal gang thought nothing of ripping off honest taxpayers. They defrauded legitimate businesses and even their customers, who were sold a low-quality product.

“Our investigation has prevented a huge supply of unregulated tobacco from reaching the UK market. We will not cease in our efforts to tackle the cheats and fraudsters and their illegal activities.”