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‘Cigs in fruit’ smugglers jailed

Press Release   •   May 08, 2014 15:57 BST

Three men behind one of the largest ever single hauls of smuggled cigarettes found in the North West have been jailed this week.

The 16.5 million illegal cigarettes, hidden in a consignment of fruit, were seized by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers in the Rochdale area in December 2011.

Anthony Peter Bower, 51,and Neil Michael Pickering, 36, from Rochdale were each jailed for more than three years, while Phillip Steven Hughes, 45, from Penygroes, South Wales was jailed for 24 weeks, suspended for two years. They were arrested at the time of the seizure and all pleaded guilty to the crime, which was worth an estimated £3.2 million in evaded excise duty.

Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:

“Tobacco-related fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy £2 billion a year in lost revenue. Don't let criminals profit – report it. The evasion of excise duty on tobacco products is a criminal offence. If you are caught you will not only have your goods seized but you may also face prosecution and investigation of your personal or business finances.

“Anyone with information about the storage or sale of illegal tobacco in their area should contact the Customs hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

The illegal cigarettes were uncovered at an industrial unit in the Castleton area of Rochdale. They were imported as “fruit”, with a large quantity of oranges and kiwi fruits used as a “cover load” in an attempt to conceal the smuggled tobacco.

HMRC officers also seized three vehicles and over £69,000 in cash. The seized cigarettes were recycled as fuel pellets and used to fuel the national electricity grid.

Notes for editors

1.  All three men pleaded guilty to of the fraudulent evasion of excise duty on a commercial quantity of cigarettes or tobacco under the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) 1979 on 7 February 2014 and were sentenced on 6 May 2014 as follows:

-  Anthony Peter Bower, DOB 04/10/62, of Yew Dale Gardens, Rochdale, Greater Manchester, bar employee, was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail.

-  Neil Michael Pickering, DOB 01/06/76, of Fairway, Rochdale, Greater Manchester, an unemployed car paint sprayer, was sentenced to three years and four months in jail.

-  Phillip Steven Hughes, DOB 10/11/68, from Penygroes, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, South Wales, unemployed, was jailed for 24 weeks, suspended for two years, with a three month curfew and compulsory attendance on a Thinking Skills programme.

2.  The cigarettes seized were mainly Golden Eagle and Gold Classic brands with smaller quantities of Arden, Hoop and Regal. As well as the cigarettes, 1.3 kilos of hand rolling tobacco, 83 litres of beer, 51 litres of wine and some pharmaceutical products were seized as part of the investigation. Cash totalling £69,590 was detained under Proceeds of Crime legislation.

3.  The recycling programme by HMRC is part of a national initiative to reduce waste from smuggling activities. One ton of shredded tobacco would light a 100 watt light bulb for 18 months. Seized alcohol is recycled in the manufacture of farm animal feed.

4.  HMRC’s Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

5.  Follow us on Twitter @hmrcgovuk

NW07/14

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.

HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.