Jail for Doncaster gang over £26m ‘mouldy cigs’ scam

COURT: Court Case
COURT: Court Case

A gang of smugglers based in and around Doncaster have been jailed for their part in a £26 million cigarette smuggling operation.

They described their tobacco as wet, mouldy and smelling like manure - but despite the low quality of the tobacco, the gang discovered it still sold as it was so cheap.

The plot, which flooded the north of England with more than 150 million cigarettes and two tonnes of “mouldy” tobacco, was masterminded by Doncaster men Daniel Harty and Billy-Jo Wall.

Harty and Wall were aided by brothers William and Samual Tomlinson, Ben Kirk, Peter Lawrence and Jonathan Ellis, all from Retford, and John Sabin, from Doncaster, to smuggle cigarettes and tobacco into the UK.

Sabin, 57, of York Road, Scawthorpe, is the only member of the gang not now behind bars, after going on the run before being sentenced.

According to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the gang - under the direction of Harty and Wall - created a distribution network that transported millions of cigarettes to warehouses, storage yards and farms.

The shipments were then broken down into smaller loads and delivered across the UK, to sell on the black market.

Sandra Smith, assistant director of criminal investigation for the 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.”

The men were arrested in early 2011 as part of an HMRC investigation codenamed Operation Hornbeam.

Officers uncovered the gang’s “safe house”, discovering large amounts of cash and all-important customer order books in an under-floor safe, hidden beneath a spring-loaded tile in the kitchen.

They also found paperwork, receipts and phone records, along with forensic evidence linking all gang members to the operation.

During the raid on one property, officers found around £250,000 in banknotes underneath a bed.

Details of the gang’s activities can now be revealed after the final members were sentenced in hearings earlier this week at Derby Crown Court.

Samuel Tomlinson, 26, of Grove Coach Road, Retford, was involved in distribution, working either as a driver himself or loading the vans.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to evade excise duty and was sentenced to ten months in jail.

Kirk, 27, of Windsor Road, Retford, acted as a driver for the gang and carried out deliveries. He pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced to five months in prison.

Ellis, 24, of Century Road, Retford, and Lawrence, 23, of Claters Close, Retford, acted as drivers and stored cash for the gang.

Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to evade excise duty. Ellis was sentenced to 20 months in jail, while Lawrence was given a six-month sentence.

One of the gang’s customers, 29-year-old David Donaghey, of Wilton Avenue, Newcastle upon Tyne, was sentenced to 40 months in prison in January after receiving around 1.3 million illegal cigarettes and selling them on the black market.

In November 2012, the gang’s ringleaders were jailed.

Harty, 29, of Pony Paddocks, Toll Bar, Doncaster, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to evade excise duty and was sentenced to four years and six months in prison.

Wall, 28, of Herrick Gardens, Balby, Doncaster, admitted guilty to conspiracy to evade excise duty and charges of money laundering.

He was sentenced to four years and four months in prison, with an additional 32 months to run concurrent for money laundering.

Tomlinson, 29, of Lifton Avenue, Retford, managed storage facilities where the tobacco could be kept safely.

In November 2012 he pleaded guilty at Derby Crown Court to conspiracy to evade excise duty and was sentenced to three years and eight months in jail.