Cigarette smugglers receive prison sentences
Three men have been sent to prison after they were caught with more than 1.5 million illegal cigarettes disguised as road surfacing material at a South Shields warehouse.
Yiannakis Theodorou, of Halford Close, Attleborough, Norfolk, Danut Nastasescu and Stanel Oprisan, both of Romania, were found hiding inside the unit on Middlefields Industrial Estate when HMRC officers uncovered the illegal haul, worth £526,397 in unpaid duty. Officers searched the premises on Throckley Way in March and discovered 24 pallets loaded with packages containing 1,508,300 non-UK duty-paid cigarettes.
The cigarettes were hidden in wooden containers coated in bitumen, often used for road surfaces, and wrapped in packaging. The three men were found hiding at the back of the unit and were arrested.
Investigations revealed Theodorou arranged the import and distribution of the cigarettes and he was found hiding between trucks parked inside the unit when HMRC searched the premises. Nastasescu and Oprisan travelled from Romania to unpack the illegal goods.
The men admitted excise fraud during a trial hearing at Newcastle Crown Court on 20 August. Theodorou was sentenced to three years, and Nastasescu and Oprisan to 15 months in prison.
Alison Chipperton, assistant director, fraud investigation service, at HMRC, said: “This was a shocking attempt to flood the streets with illicit cigarettes and con taxpayers out of money that should be used to fund our vital public services. The trio thought they could hide and wouldn’t get caught, but they were wrong.”
Worker’s injuries lead to fine
Wincanton Group has been fined £120,000 after an employee suffered serious injuries when drainage pipes he was unstrapping fell on him.
Chelmsford Crown Court was told how in 2015 the driver was unloading the 3m-long plastic pipes at a site in Braintree, Essex, when they fell, causing him to fall to the ground, resulting in facial injuries, and a broken nose and arm. During the investigation, it was found that Wincanton did not have suitable load plans in place for the type of product involved.
The investigation also revealed inadequacies in the company’s risk assessments, safe systems of work, supervision, monitoring and training at the site. Wincanton pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to comply with Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and was ordered to pay full costs of £29,540 to Braintree District Council, which brought the prosecution.
Councillor Wendy Schmitt, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment and place at Braintree District Council, said: “This was a shocking breach of workplace health and safety law that resulted in an employee being left with nasty injuries. I hope this prosecution sends out a message that there are serious consequences if health and safety laws are breached and Braintree District Council will deal with these robustly.”
A statement from Wincanton said the company was saddened by the accident and works incredibly hard to protect its people, customers and the general public at all times. “Our investigations found inadequate risk assessments, monitoring and training in place, as well as an unsafe system of work,” it added.
“We have ensured that the learnings from this case have been applied across our business and health and safety continues to be our number one priority. We accept the penalty that has been imposed but are pleased that the judge recognised that the company has a positive and proactive safety culture and is a responsible and considerate employer.”