WHEN Stephen Horton was stopped by customs officials after driving off the ferry from France, he declared he had “just a few packet of cigarettes with him”.

However, a search revealed he and passenger Joan Smith were carrying 401.5 kilogrammes of hand-rolling tobacco in the rear of their North-East bound car, Durham Crown Court was told.

James Kemp, prosecuting, said it represented a duty liability of £49,966.68 which would have been due to the Inland Revenue if sold legally.

“Asked why he would have so much, he, effectively, said he was ‘doing the run’ for someone else he owed money to.

“He said the car had been loaded up in France,” he added.

Smith denied any knowledge of the tobacco.

The car had left Dover two days earlier and had returned via the ferry terminal in Plymouth Mr Kemp said the tobacco was found in October 2009, but the delay in the case proceeding was due to the lengthy investigation which followed into the use of “pool cars”

crossing the Channel, involving several other people.

But he added that it resulted in no one else being charged.

Horton, 49, of Malcolm Avenue, Quarrington Hill, and 74- year-old Smith, of Church Vale, High Pittington, both near Durham, admitted fraudulent evasion of duty.

Stephen Duffield, for Horton, said: “As he said in interview at the time, he was under considerable financial pressure.

He resorted to taking loans from undesirable people and, as a result, to pay this back on time he was coerced to carry out this offence He has not been involved in any form of dishonesty before.”

Ros Scott Bell, for Smith, who is of previous good character, said she only became aware of what was taking place on the return journey.

Horton was given a fourmonth prison sentence, suspended for two years, with 12-months probation supervision.

Smith was given a 12-month community order to include probation supervision. She was also ordered to pay £500 costs as she only pleaded guilty on the day of her scheduled trial.