Police raided Malton pensioner's lock-up and found £50,000 of contraband tobacco

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A pensioner who was caught with more than £50,000 of contraband cigarettes and tobacco was blasted by a judge for defrauding the state – but was spared jail.

Kenneth Reginald Wood, 71, from Malton, was caught out after customs officers raided a lock-up where he had stashed the baccy without paying the requisite duty, York Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Angus MacDonald said that officers from HM Revenue & Customs raided the rented unit in October 2019 and found 85,500 cigarettes and 112kg of hand-rolled tobacco on which £51,472 of tax had not been paid.

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Wood wasn’t present at the time, but CCTV footage showed he had been going in and out of the lock-up on five separate occasions in September and October, lugging boxes out of the unit and loading them into his vehicle.

York Crown CourtYork Crown Court
York Crown Court

The pensioner was arrested a few months later when officers searched his home and vehicle.

“During the search of his home, a further 123 sleeves of cigarettes were recovered from the kitchen and 55 further packets of different brands of cigarettes (were seized) from his vehicle,” said Mr MacDonald.

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The total fraud, or evasion of duty, from the two seizures at the lock-up and Wood’s home came to £54,126.

Wood admitted he had bought the dodgy tobacco to sell on “and make extra money to live on”, added the prosecutor.

He said that Wood had both state and private pensions, as well as about £10,000 savings.

Wood, of Ropery Walk, Malton, appeared for sentence on Thursday after pleading guilty to the fraudulent evasion of duty on tobacco goods. The court heard he had a previous conviction for handling stolen goods relating to a “dodgy car” in 1996.

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Kevin Blount, for Wood, claimed the pensioner had been acting under “coercion or intimidation” from people higher up the tobacco chain.

He claimed that Wood had been selling “a small number” of cigarettes to people he knew and had been put upon to store the huge tobacco stash in the lock-up he had rented.

However, as judge Sean Morris, the Recorder of York, pointed out, “there’s no (evidence) of other people loading cars up (with cigarettes)”.

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Mr Morris branded Wood’s behaviour a “disgrace” but said he would not be sending a 71-year old, diabetic man in poor health to prison in the current conditions brought about by the Covid crisis.

He slammed the pensioner for “robbing” - through tax evasion - the same National Health Service which had been treating him for diabetes.

“They get (the money) from tax, including duty, so what you are doing is robbing the National Health Service and the (Ministry of) Defence and education,” said Mr Morris.

“You are depriving them of money so you can go and have a (tax-free) fag and make more money for yourself. It’s a disgrace.”

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He added: “The only reason I’m not putting you (in jail) is because you are of frail health and you are 71, and apart from a minor problem with a dodgy car, you have not been in trouble in your life.”

Wood - who had to use a hearing loop at the hearing - was handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence.

He was fined £8,000 which would be ploughed back into Government coffers and made to pay a statutory surcharge.

Confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act were postponed until September, when the judge will rule on how much Wood has to pay back for his ill-gotten gains.