Smuggling's Mrs Big turns out to be a granny

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The Independent Online

A bespectacled grandmother who ran her local tenants association has been unmasked as a bootlegger who side-stepped more than £100,000 in duty.

Doris Aris, 78, a widowed pensioner from the Sneinton area of Nottingham, even kept a meticulous record of her smuggling operation, which included a list of contacts to underworld figures.

Mrs Aris was the perfect image of the hardworking community activist, happily helping her neighbours and friends solve their problems as chairwoman of Citywide Flatdwellers and Residents Association.

The local community centre she helped run was a focus for the area's councillors. Customs and Excise officers believe it was also the front for her illegal, business operations.

When local residents popped in for meetings with local politicians and housing officials, they also bought their cut price booze and fags.

When the centre was raided by Customs after an anonymous tip-off, they discovered three kilos of tobacco and 1,000 smuggled cigarettes. Alongside the contraband was Mrs Aris' diary, which included a record of sales stretching back over two years, and the name of her main supplier, known only to her as "Malc".

David Faulkner, a Customs investigator closely involved in the investigation into the operation, said it was clear Mrs Aris used her prominent position to drum up trade.

"I was surprised when I saw Mrs Aris - she is certainly the oldest person we have had to deal with in terms of this sort of offence," he said.

"She was using her position in the community centre and had built up a set of contacts and would sell the goods to anyone willing to pay. However the fact that she is an elderly lady makes no difference. She took the risk of dealing in illegal goods and like everyone else must face the consequences."

Mrs Aris now faces a jail sentence after being charged with evading excise duty worth about £113,000 along with her co-accused, "Malc". Malcom Howarth, of St Ann's, Nottingham has admitted two offences of dealing in goods on which duty should have been paid worth £85,000. Mrs Aris has admitted one similar charge of evading duty worth £28,000.

Their trial at Nottingham Crown Court was adjourned for pre-sentence reports on Thursday by Judge Christopher Pitchers. "I am sure you both realise you are in an extremely serious position," he told the defendants.

According to the city's housing officials, Mrs Aris was a significant community figure. Tyrone Browne, Nottingham City Council's assistant director of housing, said: "She was a typical nice old lady."

He added: "I attended lots of meetings at the community centre and there was no inkling that anything untoward was going on. Doris was totally respected in the community for her work, she had done a lot of good work and was tremendous in helping tenants with their problems and taking up their cases with the housing departments if there were disputes or things of that nature.

"We cannot understand how it all came to this."