A FORMER police officer who pocketed £90,000 from a multi million pound cigarette smuggling operation has been ordered to pay back just £1.

Gulf War veteran Gary Thompson, who rose to the rank of Acting Sergeant with Cleveland Police, led the worldwide scam to import 60 million cigarettes into the UK.

The 45-year-old, of Burdon Walk, Castle Eden, County Durham, said he ran up debts of more than £120,000 after a career in the armed forces and police.

He admitted laundering more than £2m proceeds of the crime by setting up a fake fish tank company, Bubblearium.

Thompson was jailed for six years last July after admitting conspiracy to evade about £11m in excise duty.

He returned to Newcastle Crown Court this week as prosecutors tried to claim his criminal income.

However, the court heard he is now penniless, despite making £90,000 from his crimes and must only repay a nominal £1 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Fellow former Cleveland Police officer Anthony Lamb, who benefited by around £5,000, was ordered to pay back that amount.

The 50-year-old, of Ashbourne Drive, Coxhoe, County Durham, was jailed for five years after admitting the same charge.

David Lister, 49, of Downham Market, Norfolk, who pocketed £45,000, is also said to be without any available assets and must also pay just £1.

The haulage worker, who admitted transporting the illegal container shipments from Felixstowe to the North-East and Yorkshire, was also jailed last July for two years.

Thompson, who drove a Porsche and lived in a five-bedroomed home, together with Lamb, used their knowledge of law enforcement and forensic techniques to avoid detection.

The gang cloned identities of innocent people and hijacked the names of around 16 legitimate North-East companies to deceive the shipping agency and hoodwink the taxman over a three year period..

More than 21 containers arrived at Felixstowe, Suffolk, from ports in Dubai, Singapore, Turkey and Greece.

In total, HM Revenue and Customs intercepted seven containers and discovered 59,560,000 cigarettes - worth £11m in VAT.

But prosecutors claim another eight containers which were never found may have represented another £10m in lost revenue.