True value of smugglers’ crime may never be known - Newcastle Crown Court told

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A Norfolk man has been jailed for his part in a £10m cigarette smuggling ring involving a former police officer.

More than 21 containers arrived at Felixstowe, Suffolk, from ports in Dubai, Singapore, Turkey and Greece before David Lister, 49, of Lakeside Caravan park, near Downham Market, used fake documents to collect the cargo and transport it to the region.

Appearing at Newcastle Crown Court today, haulage worker Lister had admitted he collected 11 of the containers and had helped organise the collection of a further five. He was jailed for two years after admitting evading tax duty.

Gary Thompson, 43, of Castle Eden in County Durham, a former acting sergeant with Cleveland Police was jailed for six years after admitting the same charge.

Anthony Lamb, 50, of Coxhoe, also in County Durham, had denied the charge but was found guilty and sentenced to five years.

Thompson and Lamb used their knowledge of the legal system to evade millions of pounds 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.

Judge David Wood, at Newcastle Crown Court, said: “One of the principle problems of this type of offending is the damage to corner store traders who are trying to make a living.

“Because of this type of crime they lose their jobs and they lose their businesses. It was a large and sophisticated conspiracy to import cigarettes from abroad.

“The loss in VAT was considerable. The hope of all of this was to make large profits and I don’t believe any of you would put your liberty at risk for anything less.”

Over a three-year period the gang tricked freight agents by setting up a string of aliases under the fake name David Wilson and hijacking companies with telephone lines and email addresses.

In total officers from HM Revenue and Customs intercepted 21 shipments and they 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 cigarettes which evaded VAT just short of £11m.

But prosecutors claim they may never know the true value of the cigarettes because eight of the containers were never found. They estimated those shipments may have represented another £10m in lost revenue.

Thompson, Lamb and Lister were arrested on March 5, 2010.

Porsche-driving Thompson, who lived in a five-bedroom 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.

Mark Stephenson, representing Thompson, said: “He served in Her Majesty’s armed forces for seven years and he saw active action in the Gulf War. He is a man of exemplary character and served his country before his fall from grace.”

Lamb’s legal team claim he became embroiled in the scam so that he would take the blame for his crooked friends.

Jeremy Barnett, defending Lamb, said: “There is clear evidence he was taken advantage of by his co-accused to distance them from surveillance.”

Heidi Cotton, defending Lister, said: “Picking up the containers and moving them from A to B was the limit of his involvement.”

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