A gang who smuggled illegal tobacco hidden inside fridges, microwaves and vacuum cleaners to evade £12m in tax, have been jailed for a total of 21 years and five months.

David Hilton, 49, of Bolton, was the last member of the 11-strong gang to be sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on Thursday June 14, with a three-year jail term.

It follows the sentencing of ringleader, Timothy Newman, 51, from Luxembourg, who was jailed for four years at Manchester Crown Court on 24 May.

HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) surveillance revealed the fraud was organised from Newman’s tobacco outlet in Marmer, Luxembourg. Investigators observed the smuggling ring at work in a large warehouse where hollow white goods, with no working parts, were being used to smuggle tobacco into the UK. After being emptied in the UK, the carcases were returned to the warehouse in Luxembourg to be re-filled with more illicit tobacco destined for the UK.

As well as Hilton and Newman, there were nine accomplices from across the North West and Devon who co-ordinated the distribution, packaging and sales operation for the tonnes of tobacco being smuggled into the UK.

Six other gang members were sentenced to between 26 and 9 months in prison with two others receiving suspended sentences.

In addition, Raymond Hughes, 58, of Aughton, one of the key figures on the English side of the channel was previously jailed for six years on 9 December 2016 for his part in this £12m tobacco smuggling scam and a further six years for a second £10m cigarette smuggling fraud involving another criminal ring.

The amount of tax evaded in this case is estimated at £12,038,264. HMRC has started confiscation proceedings to recover the stolen tax from the gang members under Proceeds of Crime legislation.

Tony Capon, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“This was a sophisticated criminal network set up to smuggle, transport, store and sell illegal tobacco on a massive scale, purely to evade tax and line their own pockets.

“This gang took smuggling and tax evasion to the limits and made a serious assault on the UK public purse, stealing millions of pounds from the taxpayer, robbing public services of vital funding and undermining legitimate, local businesses.

“We want to create a level playing field for businesses and to protect the taxpayer. To help us do this I urge anyone with information about the trade in smuggled or counterfeit tobacco to contact us online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788887.

“If you’re ever offered cheap or dodgy-looking cigarettes or tobacco, contact us – don’t let the crooks get away with this type of fraud.”