Counterfeit Chesterfield tobacco factory gang jailed

Six of the gang members
Image caption Phillip Robinson, Peter Bent, Christopher Burns (top L-R), Vincent Waller, Derek Hickling, and Michael Larcombe (bottom L-R)

Gang members who set up a factory capable of producing millions of fake cigarettes have been jailed.

"Principal player" Phillip Robinson, of Kirkby-in-Ashfield, could have made millions, Nottingham Crown Court heard.

The factory in Chesterfield might have produced 625 million cigarettes a year, but a raid in 2009 stopped operations getting under way.

Robinson was jailed for seven years, while other gang members got a range of shorter sentences.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) carried out the raid on the factory, which was also capable of manufacturing more than five million packets of rolling tobacco.

The tobacco plot was worth more than £131 million a year in lost revenue, the court heard.

'Openly bragged'

As he passed sentence, Judge Jonathan Teare told Robinson: "You openly bragged that you had not worked for years because this sort of crime is what you did.

"What profits you made from these operations are impossible to evaluate. If you succeeded you could have been a millionaire by now and the public purse would be even more depleted than it is."

Gary Lampon, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, described the activity as "organised crime on an industrial scale".

Image caption HMRC investigators tracked Robinson's moves

During the raid, HMRC investigators discovered the gang was also planning to expand into making counterfeit alcohol, the court was told.

Robinson, 46, of Southfields Close, was jailed for a total of seven years and four months after pleading guilty to six counts of fraud and evasion of duty.

Vincent Waller, 47, of Jubilee Crescent, Clowne, Chesterfield, was described as Robinson's "right hand man" and was jailed for two years and six months after also pleading guilty to charges of fraud and evasion of duty.

Eight other men involved all pleaded guilty to smuggling offences or conspiring to illegally produce cigarettes and tobacco.

As well as the premises in Chesterfield, investigators searched two locations in Nottinghamshire.

At Top Farm, in Laxton, they found a cutting machine to process the tobacco and 100,000 counterfeit pouches for Golden Virginia - rolling tobacco normally manufactured in Nottingham.

At industrial units in Blidworth they found cigarette manufacturing equipment destined for another criminal gang.

Community punishments

Peter Bent, 44, of George Street, South Normanton, Alfreton, was given a ten month sentence, suspended for 12 months.

Christopher Burns, 34, of Leigh Avenue, Burntwood, Staffordshire, was jailed for 16 months.

Derek Hickling, 47, of Woodborough Road, St Ann's, Nottingham, was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 12 months, and must do 120 hours of unpaid work.

Michael Larcombe, 57, of Coleby Road, Broxtowe Estate, Nottingham, was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 12 months, and must do 120 hours of unpaid work.

Donald James, 62, of Meschines Street, Coventry, was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 12 months.

Phillip Hall, 51, formerly of Ruskin Avenue, Wolverhampton, was given 18 months custody, to run concurrently with a five year sentence he is already serving.

Andrius Kochanauskas, 29, of Ozuku, Vilnius, Lithuania, was jailed for five months.

Dangis Sulzinskas, 41, of Dawlish Avenue, Perivale, London, was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for 12 months, and 180 hours unpaid work.

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