Men from Woodford Green and Barkingside jailed for smuggling tobacco hidden in furniture

A Woodford Green man was at the head of an outfit that illegally smuggled millions of cigarettes into the UK by hiding them in furniture.

Michael Lowe, 52, of Carlina Gardens was sentenced for four years and nine months in prison at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to seven illegal imports.

The operation was an attempt to evade �1.5million in duty and VAT.

A Barkingside man was also jailed for 18 months for his part in the operation.

Paul Huzzey, 56, of Edward House, High Street, supplied storage facilities and pleaded guilty to two imports.

According to HMRC, who uncovered the fraud with covert surveillance, Lowe was “central” to the operation.

He used contacts made in Indonesia to set up a series of imports declared as furniture or handicrafts.

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A frequent visitor to the country, he used family names and addresses in the UK to set up the deliveries to a warehouse at Billet Works, Walthamstow.

There were 22 imports between July 2007 and April 2009, including 20 from Indonesia.

Almost 1.7 tons of hand-rolling tobacco and 700,000 cigarettes were seized in a container in Indonesia after paperwork found at Lowe’s home led investigators to the site.

Two other men were also jailed for their parts in the smuggling.

Nigel Sheekey 50, of Mawney Road, Romford, was jailed for four years after being convicted of being involved in four imports.

Terrence Turner, 51, of South End Road, Rainham, will serve 22 months after being convicted of being involved in two imports.

A fifth man who pleaded guilty, Anthony Wheeler, will be sentenced next month,

Sheekey used his mother’s home address and a fake name to facilitate the importation and collection of a consignment.

Turner helped organise a load and delivery or another.

Paul Barton, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said the operation was “sophisticated and highly organised”.

He added: “The smugglers used knowledge gained from a legitimate furniture business to evade the payment of duty.

“The effect of this type of criminal activity on legitimate retailers can be devastating.

“Millions of pounds, which should be available for public services, are lost each year.”