A South Yorkshire man who was caught driving a van containing an illicit cargo of more than half a million cigarettes has avoided jail.
Simon Hartley, of Batty Avenue, Cudworth, Barnsley, was stopped by police when he was driving along the motorway in January.
During a search of the van, on the northbound M6 in the West Midlands, officers discovered 655,000 Gold Mount cigarettes – on which duty of £158,000 had not been paid.
Police contacted HM Revenue and Customs, which sent officers to arrest and question Hartley.
The unemployed 46-year-old gave a ‘no comment’ interview and was charged with the fraudulent evasion of excise duty in March.
A HMRC spokesman said: “Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime, which costs the UK around £2.1 billion a year in lost taxes.
“It is theft from the taxpayer, and undermines legitimate traders.
“Anyone with information about illegal smuggling activity, the transport, storage or sale of illicit tobacco, cigarettes or alcohol should contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
Hartley pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of excise duty at Manchester Crown Court last month.
At another hearing in Manchester Crown Court last week, he was handed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to do 300 hours of unpaid work and hit with a three-month curfew.