Family jailed for tax dodge

A Doncaster family who ran a ‘highly organised’ tobacco smuggling ring have been jailed for a total of nearly 10 years.

Ronald Edwards, his son, and two sons-in-law oversaw a packaging operation importing 2,100kg of tobacco which was liable for import tax of more than £370,000.

Edwards, (pictured) aged 64, of Lords Close, was jailed for two years. His 37-year-old son Lee, of Grange Road, Paul Higgins, 46, of Chantry Close, Cantley, Russell Scherdel, 51, of Warnington Drive, Bessacarr and Alexander Ainger, 33, of Essex, were each jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Craig Hassall, prosecuting at Leeds Crown Court, said that in November 2012 customs officers raided a unit at storage centre Ready Steady Store, on Wheatley Hall Road, Doncaster.

They found Edwards senior, described as the leader of the conspiracy, had just taken delivery of more than 1,800 kg of tobacco.

The unit had only been rented that morning, with the lorry carrying the tobacco led to the storage facility by Scherdel, a son-in-law of Edwards, after he had met the driver on nearby Clay Lane.

Mr Hassall said Edwards was ‘ably assisted’ in arranging the importation by his son and two sons-in-law, Scherdel and Higgins.

The delivery note for the pallets described the contents in cardboard boxes as ‘discount/ex display clothing’.

The court heard the recommended retail price for the tobacco inside would have been at least £462,000, with duty evaded on that shipment alone worth £295,398.

Edwards senior’s home, off Bawtry Road, was searched and officers discovered a tobacco packing plant in his garage which included wooden racks to hold a tobacco pouch while being filled.

From a coat pocket inside the house, they seized a number of unused counterfeit tobacco pouches for brands including Pall Mall, Golden Virginia, Drum and Amber Leaf.

Officers also searched the then Bawtry Road home of Edwards junior and found an industrial packaging machine and several rolls of Cellophane in his garage. Remnants of tobacco pouches and tax stamps were also found showing tobacco had previously been packaged there.

Full pouches of tobacco were also seized, while in the bottom of a wardrobe in Edwards junior’s bedroom, templates for counterfeit tobacco pouches were found including Golden Virginia, Drum and Tennessee Gold.

Customs officers had observed meetings in September and October between various members of the Doncaster group and Ainger, who had put them in touch with smugglers in his area.

Cars linked to Edwards senior also made trips to France via the Eurotunnel.

Paul O’Shea, for Edwards senior, who suffered a stroke in 2012, said a brother who had died owed money to Travellers who had threatened him and his family to take over the debt.

He told the court: “The mechanism selected to repay the debt was this operation.”

All five admitted conspiracy to evade duty on hand-rolling tobacco. A fifth Doncaster man, 65-year-old Anthony Scothorne, of Thorntondale Road, Scawsby, has been convicted of the same offence after a trial and will be sentenced at a later date.

Sentencing them, Judge Tom Bayliss QC, said the smuggling was professionally planned and ‘was not a one-off operation’.

He said: “In my judgment, this was a tobacco-packaging operation on an industrial scale.”

Jo Tyler, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said: “Edwards senior treated this criminal activity as a family business.

“Not only were members of his immediate family heavily involved, his and his son’s homes were used as tobacco packing and packaging factories right under the nose of the local community.

“Tobacco smuggling is a serious criminal offence and Edwards and his gang will now pay for their attempts to make a criminal profit at the expense of the taxpayer.

“We urge members of the public who have information about the importation, sale, storage or distribution or illegal tobacco to contact our hotline on 0800 59 5000.”