Three RAF servicemen who were part of a gang which smuggled an estimated seven million cigarettes into Britain on military flights from the Middle East have been jailed.
Hauls of cigarettes were flown into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire in 2008 and 2009 in a “well thought out and professionally planned” operation.
They were then transported to the North East of England and sold on without paying import duty or VAT.
Corporal Stuart Helens, 31, Sergeant Stuart Walker, 43, and Senior Aircraftman Paul Garbutt, 31, all admitted their part in the conspiracy. Civilians Lisa Harrison, 36, Alison McCabe, 45, and Christopher Garbutt, 26 – Paul Garbutt’s brother – also owned up to being part of the scam between late 2008 and May 2009.
The three servicemen pocketed up to £30,000 each before the swindle was rumbled, Bristol Crown Court heard.
Analysis of mobile phones, computers and other documents by HM Revenue and Customs investigators found that at least 1.14 million cigarettes were smuggled on flights from Muscat, Oman – evading around £204,000 in duty and VAT. Another six million cigarettes were smuggled in on flights from Kabul, Afghanistan, evading almost £1.1 million in duty and VAT.
Helens, of King Edward Close, Calne, Wiltshire, pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. Paul Garbutt, of Avon Grove, Billingham, Teesside, admitted two charges of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and one charge of acquisition of criminal property.
Walker, of Loggon Road, Basingstoke, Hampshire, pleaded guilty to a charge conspiracy to cheat the public revenue. Christopher Garbutt, of Knapton Avenue, Billingham, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and converting criminal property.
Harrison, of Sydney Road, Middlesbrough, and McCabe, of Fielding Court, Billingham, each admitted a charge of being concerned in the acquisition of criminal property. Paul Garbutt’s wife Louisa, 36, was acquitted by a jury of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and acquisition of criminal property following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.
The seventh member of the gang, Cpl Thomas Warren, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and will be sentenced at a later date.