Published: 10:38, 03 August 2006
TWO corrupt Customs officers and a gang of bootleggers have been jailed for smuggling millions of pounds of alcohol and cigarettes into Britain.
Paul Weaver, 35, of Phillips Road, Cheriton, near Folkestone, and his colleague Steven Phillips, 34, of Church Street, Broadstairs, waved lorry-loads of contraband through Ramsgate Port as part of a massive tax dodge.
Five shipments of contraband were sneaked through the port, before being stashed in secret warehouses and then sold across Britain at knock-down prices.
Prosecutor John Black QC said: “This was a sophisticated conspiracy to smuggle large quantities of vodka and cigarettes into the UK. The Exchequer and general public were deprived of excise duty and VAT.”
Weaver was jailed for four years and Phillips for four-and-a-half years at Southwark Crown Court.
Transport managers, lorry drivers and warehouse workers were all involved in the scam, which is thought to have deprived the public purse of nearly £3 million.
A five-month trial heard of a 'highly-sophisticated’ cross-Channel plot in which contraband was shipped from Belgium and waved through border checks.
The bounty was then driven to warehouses in Manchester and Liverpool before being sold at corner shops and supermarkets. A farm was also used to store cigarettes.
Thousands of phone calls and text messages linked the defendants to the five importations which took place between August and December of 2003. Dozens of illicit meetings, phone-box conversations and secret pub rendezvous were noted by investigators and logged as part of the undercover operation.
Both had admitted one count of conspiracy to contravene Customs duties between December 1, 2002, and December 10, 2003.
Passing sentence Judge Christopher Hardy said the duo’s role in the conspiracy was “pivotal.”
Addressing Weaver, who now awaits sentence in Canterbury for keeping indecent pictures and films of youngsters, the Judge said: “You acted in the grossest possible breach of trust and breach of the honourable office each of you served as Customs officers. Kent has a long history of smuggling which you have joined.”
Nine others were jailed for conspiracy.