A MAN who was found with 20,000 illegal cigarettes and just under £24,000 in cash in his transit van has been spared jail.
David Walker was spotted by police on February 20, visiting a number of industrial estates in the North East before travelling south on the A1.
They pulled the 48-year-old over at Washington and searched his van, where they found 20,000 cigarettes and £23,385 in cash.
Newcastle Crown Court heard how Walker, of Cantley Avenue, Gedling, Nottingham, was driving 260,000 cigarettes up to the region, evading £60,000 in tax.
Richard Hermann said: “He was arrested and taken to Washington police station for interview.
“He claimed it was his job and accepted he had been a driver 10 to 15 times in the past.
“He said he would receive for that day’s job £200 plus petrol money.
“In terms of role, it’s accepted he is a courier.”
The two boxes of cigarettes recovered by police meant the total amount of cigarettes sold was 240,000 with a tax evasion of £53,895.
Walker pleaded guilty to fraudulently evading any duty in relation to cigarettes.
Caroline Goodwin, defending, said: “He found himself in debt. As a result of the debt, he found himself doing jobs for unsavoury individuals to pay off the errands.
“He found himself driving. He’s been very frank that he has done this before. The planning of these operations were not by him.
“He found himself in a period of financial difficulty. He simply does not have any money.”
Recorder Simon Batiste sentenced Walker to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years, and told him: “You are someone who was in debt, you were doing the job for individuals and it certainly wasn’t to create an extravagant lifestyle for yourself.”
He also ordered Walker to complete 240 hours’ unpaid work, to pay £600 in costs and a victim surcharge of £100.