66-year-old Alan Toal, a resident of the Hopton's Almshouses in Bankside, was this week sentenced for his part in illegally purchasing and possessing 2.3 million cigarettes at airport duty free shops.
Toal was convicted of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion or attempted evasion of duty on tobacco contrary to Section 170 (2) of the Customs and Management Act 1979. He was sentenced at Hove Trial Centre in Sussex to 12 months imprisonment – suspended for 18 months – and a given a six month curfew between 9pm and 5am.
An investigation by HM Revenue & Customs found that Toal – along with other gang members – would purchase cigarettes in the duty free shops at airports across the UK using counterfeit boarding cards, or one-way open tickets. They would then either leave the airport though domestic arrival channels, or travel on a short-haul flight to continue the fraud at other duty free shops in the UK.
HMRC says that between February 2009 and May 2010 the gang evaded £545,933 in duty.
"This type of criminal activity can have a devastating effect on legitimate retailers and the costs the country billions of pounds in lost revenue each year; money which should be available for public services," says Bob Gaiger of HMRC.
"Anyone with information about this type of crime is urged to call the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org."
The gang's ringleader, Michael Pitt of Islington, was last month sentenced to five years in prison. Four other gang members were also sentenced to shorter terms or suspended sentences.