South Yorkshire fugitive who smuggled 5.7m illicit cigarettes into UK is finally caught - in the pub

Richard David Curtis, his lorry and the frozen chips.
Richard David Curtis, his lorry and the frozen chips.

A fugitive lorry driver who led a failed plot to smuggle £1.3 million worth of illicit cigarettes into the UK then went on the run has finally been caught - in the pub.

Richard David Curtis was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison in January after a trial heard border force officers discovered 5.7 million illicit cigarettes hidden under packets of frozen chips in his lorry at Dover.

He later went on the run but his luck ran out when he dropped into a pub in Jacksdale, Nottingham, for a drink. A fellow customer recognised him from his mugshot in a public appeal for information in the local media and immediately rang police.

Officers swooped on Tuesday evening - just one day after the appeal was issued - and took him away.

Alan Tully, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HM Revenue and Customs, said: "I would like to thank the public and the media for their assistance in putting Richard Curtis where he belongs, behind bars instead of in front of one socialising in the pub.

"Honest members of the public won’t tolerate crooks who steal from the public purse. And they certainly won’t tolerate crooks who think they can cheat justice and brazenly walk the streets.

“Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime which costs the UK £2.4 billion a year in lost duty."

The 57-year-old, of Kings Wood Close, Bawtry in Doncaster, was caught when his lorry was stopped after arriving on a ferry from Calais at the Port of Dover on November 18 2013. Paperwork provided by Curtis gave the illusion he was carrying a cargo of chips and potato waffles, bound for a frozen food store in Warrington, Cheshire.

But during a search, officers discovered 5, 729, 900 cigarettes, on which duty of £1, 308, 321 had not been paid.

The smuggler told customs officials he had spent the weekend with an old girlfriend in Bruges, Belgium, before collecting the frozen food and travelling back to Dover via Calais. Curtis said he was unaware the lorry contained illicit cigarettes.

He later skipped bail ahead of a trial in which he was found guilty in his absence of fraudulent evasion of more than £1.3m in excise duty. Curtis appeared at Maidstone Crown Court on Wednesday before being sent to prison. He will reappear before the court on April 26 to be sentenced for bail offences.