Two men who abused their positions at Southampton docks by helping to smuggle hundreds of thousands of non-UK duty paid cigarettes into the UK have been handed lenient suspended prison sentences.

The outcome has angered retailers, who lose large proportions of their legitimate tobacco sales to the illicit trade each year, and particularly during the summer months.

A multi-agency undercover operation caught Christopher Gregory and Stephen Le Carpentier red-handed as they unloaded large boxes of non-duty paid cigarettes from a container ship into a port transit van.

HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation John Cooper, who helped lead the operation, said: "Gregory and Le Carpentier abused their positions of trust within the docks to smuggle cigarettes into the UK. They have both lost their jobs and gained criminal records."

However, retailers claim that the pair's four-month suspended prison sentences were not nearly stringent enough. "Sentences like that are no kind of deterrent," said Londis retailer Steve Bassett, who owns a store in Southampton. "Basically, they're getting away with it."