Leaders of a tobacco smuggling gang which attempted to traffic more than 12 million illicit cigarettes into the UK have been jailed for up to five years.

Joseph Maguire and Gary Taggart were caught red-handed in their attempts to smuggle in two hauls, worth an estimated £2.5m in duty.

Taggart was stopped by Border Force officers at Dover. A search of his trailer revealed that his load, described as ‘foodstuffs’, was in fact millions of smuggled cigarettes, prompting his arrest. A swoop on one of the gangs’ farm units the previous day had netted a further 4.5 million illicit cigarettes. Further investigations by HMRC led them to Maguire. He was arrested as he arrived at Stansted Airport on a flight from Belfast.

“Maguire and Taggart were at the heart of a calculated attempt to flood the UK with millions of illegally smuggled cigarettes,” HMRC assistant director John Cooper said.

“They thought that using false consignment information, a remote lock-up and 16 mobile phones would make their crime undetectable, but they were wrong.”

Maguire was sentenced to five years imprisonment and Taggart to three.

Anyone with information about cigarette and tobacco smuggling can contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.