A father and son have been jailed after they were caught smuggling almost half a tonne of illegal tobacco into the UK hidden under pot plants.

Lorry drivers Johannes Timmermans, 65, and Mattijas Timmermans, 37, both of Veen, Netherlands, attempted to smuggle 480kg of hand-rolling tobacco through the Port of Hull, an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) revealed.

They were caught when Border Force officers stopped and searched their vehicles as they arrived from Rotterdam on 18 September 2018. Officers found 960 pouches of non-UK duty paid hand-rolling tobacco hidden under potted plants in cardboard boxes. Their paperwork said they were transporting flowers.

The Turner brand tobacco, worth £138,720 in unpaid duty, was seized by Border Force. Both men were arrested and the case was passed to HMRC for investigation.

Both men admitted excise fraud at Hull Crown Court on 20 September. They were each sentenced to 10 months in prison at the same court on 19 October. Proceedings are under way to recover the unpaid duty.

Eden Noblett, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a shameful attempt to put illegal tobacco on the streets and steal taxpayers’ money. Johannes and Mattijas Timmermans were wrong to think their illegal cargo would go undetected and now they’re paying the price.

“Trade in illegal tobacco harms legitimate businesses and deprives the UK of money, which should be used to fund our vital public services. The duty evaded on these goods was enough to pay the salaries of six newly qualified nurses for a year. We urge anyone with information about tax fraud to report it to HMRC online or contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788887.”