A Grantham taxi driver who was caught transporting more than a tonne and a half of illegal tobacco has been sentenced in court today.
Alan Clater, 62, of Hornsby Road, was stopped by Wiltshire Police on the M4 near Swindon, during a joint operation in March 2013. After police spotted the tobacco, HM Revenue and Customs officers conducted a search in the rear of the hire van he was driving and found boxes and bin liners containing 404kg of hand-rolling tobacco and 1.199 tonnes of raw tobacco, worth an estimated £260,000 in lost excise duty.
Clater told officers he was travelling from Bournemouth to his Grantham home but took a wrong turn westbound onto the M4. He was stopped on the M4 eastbound near Junction 15 during a four-day operation to crackdown on motorists, targeting excise fraud and motoring offences.
Clater was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, when he appeared at Swindon Crown Court today. He was also ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work. He was found guilty after a trial on May 7 at the same court. The tobacco seized was also ordered to be destroyed.
Colin Spinks, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said: “We will not stand by and let crooks rip off the law-abiding public, stealing money that should be being spent on vital public services. HMRC takes robust action to detect, disrupt and bring those who break the law before the courts.
“These offences have a devastating impact on honest retailers who have to compete with the black market and on the nation’s finances, with around £2 billion lost in excise revenue each year.
“Anyone who suspects cigarettes or tobacco is being illegally produced, smuggled or sold can help us by calling the Customs hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
Clater pleaded not guilty to two counts of evading paying duty. This was in relation to the 404kg of hand rolled tobacco, evading duty of £66,300.44, and the raw tobacco which, when processed, which would evade duty of £196,767.89
Inspector Steve Cox, Roads Policing Operations Team, said: “We work closely with HMRC to ensure the success of joint operations targeting criminals on the M4 corridor. Today’s sentencing is proof of how working together can bring positive outcomes for the public. We cannot underestimate the impact of this sort of crime on the public purse and it is only right that this man was not able to get away with it.
“Proactive operations with HMRC not only act as a deterrent but we can make a significant impact on the excise fraud that these criminals are committing.”