A FATHER-OF-THREE who agreed to store a quarter of a million illegal cigarettes in exchange for a drink has been jailed.
Darren Stanley, 42, of Bennetts Lane, Marton, was sent to prison for 27 weeks for his part in an operation to import and sell counterfeit cigarettes.
Preston Crown Court heard Stanley attempted a daring escape after being confronted by customs officers at a property in Whitehill Road, Westby.
Stanley, a lawnmower engineer by trade, had met another man, Daniel Brown, at Tesco, Marton, on February 3 last year.
Brown’s vehicle, a Peugeot van, was full of boxes containing 250,000 counterfeit cigarettes.
Stanley’s Ford Transit contained a further 23,820 counterfeit cigarettes and more than £24,310 in cash, stashed in a supermarket carrier bag.
The smuggled cigarettes, branded as Regal Kingsize, would have resulted in the loss of around £58,200 in excise duty had they been successfully sold. Unbeknown to the pair they had been under surveillance from HMRC officers and were confronted at the Whitehill Road address, where Stanley crashed his van after attempting to escape.
The court heard Stanley, who admitted possession of goods with intent to defraud duty, had two previous convictions for similar activities, having previously been jailed for nine months after being arrested at Dover.
He also received a six month suspended sentence in February 2011 after being caught with 269,000 counterfeit cigarettes.
Stanley’s defence said his involvement in this operation had come about after he was asked to do a favour by a previous contact he had met at Dover.
Defending Stanley, Christopher Marsh-Finch argued he should be spared jail and given a “last chance saloon”, claiming he had only turned to crime after his previous business had failed.
Mr Marsh-Finch told the court: “He’s been caught by his own past, sometimes it’s very difficult to say no to someone who phones up and says you owe them.”
Passing sentence, Judge Ian Leeming told Stanley: “I take into account your guilty plea and the business problems you have.
“I’m afraid it gives me no pleasure to say it, but I’ve come to the view that for this offending custody has to be immediate.”
Stanley was also banned from driving for 12 months after admitting to a count of dangerous driving.
Brown, from Nottingham, was given a 20-week sentence suspended for 18 months for his part in the crime.
Speaking after the sentencing, Mike O’Grady, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said: “The surveillance conducted proved that these men were involved in major excise duty fraud.
“Darren Stanley deliberately attempted to seriously injure my officer as he tried to avoid being arrested. HMRC takes attacks on our officers very seriously and we will prosecute anyone who resorts to violence or assault.
“Fortunately on this occasion no one was injured. Illegal tobacco sales and smuggling has an impact on the public, it costs the country around £2bn in lost revenue each year.”