From: Staffordshire Newsletter (UK)
THREE convicted black marketeers have been jailed following the seizure of more than four million contraband cigarettes at a farm in Staffordshire.
The haul was made by customs officers in a raid on Old House Farm, near Stafford.
They found a lorry containing boxes of fags smuggled in to the UK and destined for the black market.
No duty or VAT had been paid and HM Revenue would have been cheated out of almost £1 million, Stafford crown court heard.
Two men were caught unloading the lorry – its driver Denis Freeman and Ryan Fellows, while a third man, Ian Wells, – the “receptionist” – was standing nearby.
Fellows, aged 33, of Giles Road, Willenhall, who pleaded guilty to dealing in goods on which duty had not been paid, was jailed for 18 months.
Wells, aged 40, of Ely Close, Birmingham and Freeman, aged 63, of Oakham Road, Melton Mobray, Leics. both denied the offence, but were convicted by a jury following a trial in August. Freeman was jailed for two years and Wells got 12 months.
Judge Mark Eades told them they had been “oiling the wheels of the black market.” “The tax on cigarettes is high and those who smuggle cigarettes in to the country and sell them on the balck market can expect handsome profits. The duty evaded here is in excess of £964,000.
“I don’t suppose for a moment you were involved in the organisation of this operation, but those who did organise it felt able to trust you. The three of you expected handsome rewards. whether your motive was pure greed or debts, I don’t know.” The judge said Freeman had ferried the whole load of contraband from the East Midlands to the farm in Staffordshire, Fellows was ‘the receptionist’ overseeing the unloading and Wells was taking smaller quantities on to unknown destinations.
Jurors heard how customs officers were keeping watch on Old House Farm, near Woodseaves in March last year when a van hired for cash by Wells in Lichfield that day turned up, followed shortly afterwards by the lorry.
Wells claimed he knew nothing about the cigarettes and had only been asked to do a courier job, while Freeman said he thought the boxes contained animal feed. Their stories were rejected by the jury.
Mr Adam Western, for Fellows, said the cigarettes did not belong to his client. “He has accepted his involvement at a lesser level.” Mr Jeffrey Lamb, for Wells, said his client had been no more than a van driver looking for work in difficult times.