by Dave Robson
TWO former Cleveland Police officers have been jailed after helping orchestrate a cigarette smuggling ring worth more than £10m.
Gary Thompson, an acting sergeant in his time with the Cleveland force, was part of an “organised crime gang” illegally importing a haul of nearly 60 million cigarettes.
Over three years Thompson, along with his ex-police colleague Anthony Lamb, used his knowledge of the legal system to evade millions of pounds worth of duty, producing letterheads and fake email addresses to hijack around 16 North-east businesses as a front to hide the scam from the authorities.
Now Thompson, 43, of Burdon Walk, Hartlepool, and Lamb, 50, of Ashborne Drive, Coxhoe, have been jailed for six and five years respectively for what Judge David Wood, at Newcastle Crown Court, called “a large and sophisticated conspiracy to import cigarettes from abroad.”
More than 21 containers arrived at Felixstowe, Suffolk, from Dubai, Singapore, Turkey and Greece before a third gang member, David Lister, 49, of Lakenside Caravan park, Norfolk, used fake documents to collect the cargo and transport it to the region.
HM Revenue and Customs officers intercepted 21 shipments and discovered the gang had carried out “dummy runs” by importing six shipments of paving slabs.
When they seized a further seven of the huge containers they discovered a haul of 59,560,000 dodgy cigarettes which evaded VAT totalling just short of £11m.
But prosecutors claim they may never know the true value of the cigarettes after eight containers were never found. The unaccounted shipments may have represented another £10m in lost revenue.
Porsche-driving Thompson, who lived in a five-bed home with his wife, said he had run up debts of more than £120,000 after a career in the armed forces and the police.
He admitted laundering more than £2m of his criminal cash by setting up a fake company called Bubblearium which he claimed traded in fish tanks but existed solely to launder the proceeds of the crime. He was jailed for six years after admitting conspiracy to evade cigarette duty.
Mark Stephenson, defending Thompson, said: “He is a man of exemplary character and served his country before his fall from grace.”
Lamb’s legal team claimed he became embroiled in the scam so that he would take the blame for his crooked friends. He was jailed for five years for the same charge.
Haulage worker Lister, formerly of Reeves Way, Amthorpe, Doncaster, admitted he collected 11 of the containers himself and helped organise the collection of a further five. He was jailed for two years after admitting conspiracy to evade excise duty
HMRC assistant director for criminal investigation, Paul Rooney said Thompson and Lamb “both quite blatantly flouted laws that they were formerly employed to uphold, which makes this fraud even more brazen.”