Gang caught running £180k tobacco plot

Tobacco gang smuggling ringleader Jamie Connolly
Tobacco gang smuggling ringleader Jamie Connolly

A St Helens man who was part of a gang that smuggled £180,000 worth of cigarettes into the UK has been spared jail.

Dale O’Brien admitted bringing tobacco into the country as part of a plot to avoid paying tax.

The 36-year-old was part of a plot headed by flight attendant Dennis Connolly, who organised more than 130 smuggling trips for himself and five others using his airline staff discounts.

O’Brien, of Gaskell Street, Parr, was sentenced to a 12-month jail term suspended for two years for his part in the plot.

The gang hid cigarettes and tobacco worth £180,000 in their luggage and evaded duty and taxes.

Three other men and one woman from Warrington and Southpott were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court.

Sandra Smith, assistant director of criminal investigations at HMRC, said: “Airline employees hold a position of trust and abusing such privileges in order to smuggle is a serious matter.

“Connolly organised subsidised travel purely for smuggling purposes. There are no excuses for smuggling, whatever your status.

“Tobacco fraud costs honest taxpayers more than £2billion a year, undercutting honest businesses, and drawing people into wider criminality.

“Anyone with information about illicit tobacco sales or smuggling should contact the Customs’ Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

The gang were caught out when three of them were stopped by Border Force officers at Liverpool John Lennon Airport on two separate dates.

Terence Steele, 57, was stopped in November 2013 as he attempted to pass through the Customs Green Channel with 20 kilos of hand rolling tobacco (HRT) in his luggage, after a one-day trip to Faro, Portugal.

O’Brien, 36, and Paul Rigby, 44, both unemployed, were stopped together at the same airport in April 2013, with 29 kilos of HRT in their luggage.

Connolly, Steele and Adele Jenkinson, 41, also an airline employee, made large purchases of duty-free tobacco in Spain and Portugal.