Updated: Friday, 17th May 2019 @ 1:55pm

Up in smoke: Rochdale pair see £3.2m bootleg cigarette haul BURNED for National Grid

Up in smoke: Rochdale pair see £3.2m bootleg cigarette haul BURNED for National Grid

| By Jon Harris

Two Rochdale pirate tobacco barons are behind bars over a plot to smuggle £3.2million worth of bootlegged cigarettes into Britain – hidden inside crates of fruit.

Anthony Bower, 51, and Neil Pickering, 36, also saw their haul of 16.5m duty cigarettes go up in smoke – to help with the national fuel supply.

Both were arrested after customs officers swooped on their illegal tobacco cargo, which had been disguised as a giant consignment of oranges and kiwi fruit.

It had been discovered at an industrial unit in the Castleton area of Rochdale as long ago as December 2011 after being secretly shipped in from Vietnam where hoodlums used the fruit as a ‘cover load’.

All the cigarettes – one the largest single consignments in the North of England – were due to be sold at a cut price on the black market after they dodged paying VAT.

But pub barman Bower and Pickering, an unemployed car paint sprayer, were detained at the unit following surveillance by investigators.

The confiscated cigarettes were mainly branded Golden Eagle and Gold Classic with smaller quantities of Arden, Hoop and Regal. HMRC officers also seized three vehicles and over £69,500 in cash.

Officers said a further 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.

Both men claimed they were ‘trusted lieutenants’ of an unnamed kingpin behind the racket who is yet to have been brought to justice.

But at Manchester Crown Court this week, Bower, of Yewdale Gardens, Rochdale, was jailed for three years and nine months, while Pickering, of Fairway, also in Rochdale, was jailed for three years and four months.

A third man, jobless Phillip Hughes, 45, from Penygroes, South Wales, who acted as a courier, was given a 24-week jail sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to abide by a three-month curfew.

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.

The seized cigarettes were recycled as fuel pellets and used to fuel the national electricity grid. One ton of shredded tobacco would light a 100-watt lightbulb for 18 months. Seized alcohol is recycled in the manufacture of farm animal feed.

Today, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation Sandra Smith said: "Tobacco-related fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy £2billion a year in lost revenue so our message is 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."

Story via Cavendish Press

Image courtesy of Evening Express via Youtube with thanks