A Rochdale man, who tried to blame a “man in the pub” for his illegal cigarette hoard in a £57,000 tax fraud, has been jailed for 12 months.

Unemployed, Andrew Longbottom, 53, of Wardle, Rochdale, was caught in 2013 by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers, who discovered he had more than 127,200 illegal cigarettes and 68 kilos of tobacco in a rented storage unit. A search of his van also revealed more cigarettes and over £18,700 in cash, hidden behind a panel, which he couldn’t explain.

During interviews he claimed he was storing and transporting the cigarettes for a man in his local pub, but didn’t know his name. In reality, HMRC officers proved to the court that Longbottom had lived off criminal cash, evading taxes and dealing in the cigarettes and tobacco for himself.

Longbottom was jailed for 12 months at Manchester Crown Court for tax evasion on the tobacco products. His Honour Judge Potter said he must serve six months in jail and then six months on licence.

Sandra Smith, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “All his lies fell apart under scrutiny and ultimately Longbottom had to admit his guilt. The court result demonstrates our relentless pursuit of fraudsters who try to evade tax on tobacco products. A confiscation hearing under Proceeds of Crime will now follow in this case to recover the stolen tax for the public purse.

“We urge anyone with information about the trade in smuggled cigarettes or tobacco products to contact the Customs Hotline 0800 595000. If you get approached in the pub about dodgy cigarettes, call us – don’t let them get away with this type of fraud.”