26/08/2009

'Rotting Lettuce' Hid Contraband Tobacco

A Co Down lorry driver has been jailed for smuggling.

A Newry man who smuggled six million cigarettes and half a tonne of hand rolling tobacco in decomposing lettuce has been jailed for three years.

Lorry driver Martin Fitzpatrick, 28, was stopped by customs officers at Dover Docks in May 2008. A search of the vehicle revealed the illicit load hidden beneath pallets of rotting lettuce.

The duty evaded on the haul was almost £1m.

Maidstone Crown Court was told that Fitzpatrick claimed his lettuce were destined for the Republic of Ireland.
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However, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) investigators soon established that the load was not expected at the company he claimed he was to deliver to.

Fitzpatrick had collected the lettuce from Navarra, Spain and claimed to have no knowledge of the cigarettes and tobacco.

Speaking after the case Malcolm Bragg, Assistant Director, HMRC, said: "This was a determined and deliberate attempt to smuggle a huge quantity of illicit tobacco products. "Had they reached the open market, the proceeds would have been used to finance organised crime and serve to undermine the honest traders who sell duty paid cigarettes and tobacco.

"If you buy illegal cigarettes you are directly funding criminal gangs and denying public services vital funding."

(GK/BMcC)

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