Former football club boss jailed over cigarette smuggling

The former boss of a football club who took part in one of the country's biggest cigarette smuggling crimes was jailed for five and half years today.

Guy Simpson, who used to be chief executive of Southern League Premier Division side Halesowen Town, helped organise the shipment from China loaded in two 40ft (12m) containers which held more than 21 million counterfeit cigarettes.



He admitted at an earlier hearing to fraudulently avoiding duty totalling £4.5 million on the shipment.



The 53-year-old, of Flag Lane, Heath Charnock, Lancashire, was arrested after a routine scan of the container at Southampton docks found the fake Regal brand.



They were on board the Maersk Algol which arrived in Southampton from China on December 13, 2008.



Tim Moores, prosecuting, told Southampton Crown Court that the containers were registered to Simpson's company BS Property Developments (North West) Ltd and were supposed to hold gym balls.



When Customs said the containers were to be scanned, the barrister said Simpson panicked and "started to take steps to cover his tracks" because he had organised the shipment and completed all the paperwork.



He said the goods were not his and belonged to a third party. He even made up the name of a man called Derek Gardner, who was supposed to be involved, but the prosecution said did not exist.



Customs found the containers "full to the brim" with the cigarettes, taking a team a whole day to unload them, and Simpson was arrested.



"This was one of the largest duty evasion offences this country has ever seen," Mr Moores told the court.



At the time Simpson's business empire was failing and he was significantly in debt, the court heard.



Mr Moores said the businessman was involved with Halesowen Town but had ambitions to put himself forward to Premier League managers and agents.



Simpson also liked the high life, and the court was told that when he had an email saying "game on", which meant the cigarettes were on their way, he booked a cruise for him and his wife. He was on the cruise when the cigarettes were discovered.



In mitigation, Andrew Hallworth, said the offence was "motivated by financial difficulties" and that Simpson was to be paid only £25,000 for organising the shipment, but he didn't know how many cigarettes were in the containers.



He was nearly £900,000 in debt and faced bankruptcy.



Sentencing Simpson, Judge Peter Ralls QC said: "You were deeply involved in this matter in my judgment.



"You had expertise in import and export that was useful to yourself and the other people in this whole plot."



He said Simpson had a "pivotal role" in the crime and the sheer scale of it was important.



The seized cigarettes were subsequently shredded and burnt at a power station to help power the national grid.



A confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act will take place in September.



Speaking after the case, HM Revenue and Customs spokesman John Cooper said: "This was a blatant attempt to smuggle massive quantities of counterfeit cigarettes into Southampton and on to the UK's streets.



"Criminals like Simpson don't care about undercutting honest retailers, depriving the UK of public funds or consider the real content of their cheap fake cigarettes. Smugglers only care about profit."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high