A TOBACCO smuggler who tried to bribe the police to look the other way when he was arrested has been jailed for ten months.

Thomas Griffiths, 53, of Durham Street, Spennymoor, County Durham, was stopped by police at a storage site at Thinford, near Spennymoor, in May 2012.

The investigators found 40 kilos of duty free hand rolling tobacco in his car and he was arrested on suspicion of excise duty evasion.

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The find saw officers from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) begin an investigation.

A storage unit near the site of Griffiths’ arrest was searched and 50 kilos of tobacco upon which duty had not been paid was found.

The police also found a mobile phone and a set of keys which unlocked a second unit.

The second unit was leased by Ronald Allinson, 49, of Seaham, County Durham, and it contained 22 kilos of tobacco and 176,000 duty free cigarettes.

Allinson was arrested as part of the intelligence led investigation in July 2012. Investigators state that the excise duty and the VAT evaded on the tobacco and cigarettes was £54,564.

Griffiths was jailed this week at Newcastle Crown Court for ten months after he pleaded guilty to a charge of fraudulent evasion of excise duty.

While Allinson, of Heathway, in Seaham, also pleaded guilty to the same charge at the crown court and was given a ten month jail sentence which was suspended for one year.

Speaking after the case Diane Donnelly, assistant director for criminal investigation at the HMRC, said: “Thomas Griffiths has a prior conviction for involvement in illegal tobacco trading; yet he continues to show a blatant disregard for the law.

“He has, along with others, attempted to make a sizeable criminal profit at the expense of the UK taxpayer.

“HMRC is determined to clamp down on those individuals who continue to flood local communities with illegal tobacco.”

A HMRC spokeswoman, speaking after the case, added: “The North-East as a whole is well known as a hot-spot for smuggling cigarettes. There is an extensive black market for it in the area.”

The cigarettes and tobacco were destroyed by the HMRC following the investigation.

Anyone who has details on tobacco smuggler is asked to contact the HMRC hot-line on 0800-59-5000.