TWO ferry port workers who smuggled tobacco worth tens of thousands of pounds into the UK blamed Government information for falling foul of the law.
Brian Metcalf, 52 and his nephew Scott Metcalf, 23, were caught by customs officers with 182 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco in the back of their van last August.
The pair, from Sunderland, were working as contractors at the P&O freight depot in Hull on the Pride of York ship, which had arrived from Belgium, and were arrested as they left the compound.
Customs officers found a stash of Golden Virginia, Samson and Amber Leaf pouches.
Prosecutor Sarah Mallet told Newcastle Crown Court: “The total weight was 182 and a half kilos. The duty that was due on that total was £30,122. In other words, each of the defendants would be responsible for £15,061 of the unpaid duty.”
The court heard both men said they had saved up more than £6,000 each so they could buy the tobacco cheaply and then sell it on to family and friends for no profit.
The pair said they broke the law and landed themselves in court despite checking on the Government website that what they were doing was legal.
Jamie Adams, for the nephew, said: “The information on the website of HM Customs and Excise is, to say the least, misleading, and very misleading because it does state that the amount of goods you can bring in is unlimited.”
Mr Adams said any actual limits can only be found with intensive research, which still leaves the legal position unclear.
He added: “It seems very much a question of what the particular officer at the port who may stop you and talk to you appraises the situation to be.”
Glen Gatland, for the uncle, also said the website was confusing.
Mr Gatland said: “More than one kilogramme would be regarded as commercial, even if it was a gift and someone repays you for the value of the goods.”
Mr Gatland said Metcalf senior lost his contract with P&O, which was his main supplier of work, over what happened and may lose his house when prosecutors attempt to claw back the lost revenue he was responsible for.
He added: “He has been extremely heavily penalised for an offence which, by its very nature, is not clearly defined for people of good character, setting out precisely what it is they are not supposed to do.”
Judge John Evans sentenced both men to a 12-month community order with 180 hours’ unpaid work and £500 costs.
Brian Metcalf, of Ailesbury Street, Millfield, Sunderland, and Scott Metcalf, of Orkney Drive, Ryhope, had admitted evading duty.
Jo Tyler, assistant director for criminal investigation for HMRC, said: “Scott and Brian Metcalf abused their position as contractors with P&O ferries to bring illegal tobacco into the UK with the intention of selling on the black market to turn a profit.
“We hope that their sentence today serves as a warning to others tempted into this type of crime.”