TWO friends from County Durham have been fined for trying to smuggle 62kg of bootleg tobacco into Newcastle Airport.

Joseph Ralph Fiddes, 33, of Dale Street, Ushaw Moor, and Paul Andrew Gibson, 42, of Aynsley Mews, Consett, admitted charges of jointly and fraudulently evading tax on hand rolling tobacco.

A third man was also charged but he was not present to enter pleas at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court.

John Garside, prosecuting, said: "On 23rd November 2017 these defendants were intercepted by UK Border Force after travelling into the UK from Spain. "There was 61.8kg of tobacco in their luggage.

"That represented £13,668 in excess duty that had been evaded."

Joe Hedworth, representing Fiddes, said: "Mr Fiddes accepts he brought around 20kg back into the country from the Alicante region. He accepts that was an extremely foolish thing to do and he has now lost the good name he has held all his life.

"His circumstances have changed significantly since the commission of this offence. He was married in December 2017 and he and his wife had their first child together last month, so he has very recently become a father. He is in full employment and works as a fire alarm installation engineer. His business is doing well. This was a one-off offence."

Self-employed fellow engineer Gibson, who was representing himself, said: "I work away most of the time. It would cause a lot of problems if I had some sort of sentence. I appreciate what I did wasn't the right thing to do but I came across some cheap tobacco on our first trip out there. On our second trip we put our money together with a couple of friends and bought some tobacco.

"I wasn't aware that it was a tax evasion. I just thought we were bringing some cheap tobacco back from the EU.

"It was my first offence and it will be my last offence. I can only apologise."

Gibson was fined £461 and was ordered to pay £85 costs and a £46 victim surcharge while Fiddes was fined £346, and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £34 victim surcharge. Both men were given credit for their guilty pleas and the fines were linked to their means.