A gang of Retford smugglers, who described their tobacco as ‘wet, mouldy and smells like manure, but sells because it’s cheap’, is behind bars after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) smashed their £26 million criminal operation.
The plot, which flooded the north of England with more than 150 million cigarettes and two tonnes of low quality tobacco, was masterminded by Doncaster men Daniel Harty and Billy-Jo Wall.
They were aided by brothers William and Samual Tomlinson, Ben Kirk, Peter Lawrence and Jonathan Ellis all from Retford and John Sabin from Doncaster after they smuggled cigarettes and tobacco into the UK.
Under the direction of Harty and Wall the gang created a distribution network that transported millions of cigarettes throughout the north of England to warehouses, storage yards and farms.
The shipments were then broken down into smaller loads and delivered to towns and cities across the UK to sell on the black market.
Sandra Smith, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, HMRC said: “This gang operated in a very professional way, importing and delivering smuggled cigarettes and tobacco with precision planning. They kept hand-written records and accounts and had developed an extensive customer base.”
“Although they went to great lengths to conceal their business, with a determination to avoid being caught, we have brought them to justice, which will serve as a stark warning to others involved in the illegal tobacco trade.”
The men were arrested in early 2011 as part of a HMRC investigation codenamed Operation Hornbeam. HMRC officers uncovered the gang’s ‘safe house’ discovering large amounts of cash and the gang’s all important customer order books in an under-floor safe, hidden beneath a spring loaded tile on the kitchen floor.
Officer’s also found paperwork, receipts and phone records along with forensic evidence linking all the gang members to the illegal operation.
During the raid on one property officers found around a £250,000 in bank notes underneath a bed.
One of the gang’s customers, David Donaghey from Newcastle upon Tyne was sentenced to 40 months in prison in January 2013 after it was discovered he had received around 1.3 million illegal cigarettes, which he sold on the black market.