A DISGRACED police officer who orchestrated one of the region’s biggest cigarette smuggling operations has been forced to pay back just £1 from his criminal gains.
Gary Thompson, a former officer and also a Gulf War veteran, helped orchestrate a £10m scam to import 60 million cigarettes into the UK, making at least £90,000 for himself in the process.
Porsche-driving Thompson, who lived in a five-bedroom home with his wife, said he had run up debts of more than £120,000 after a career in the armed forces and the police.
He admitted laundering more than £2m of his criminal cash by setting up a fake company called Bubblearium, which he claimed traded in fish tanks but which existed solely to launder the proceeds of the crime.
Thompson was jailed for six years last year and was brought back to Newcastle Crown Court as prosecutors tried to claw back some of his ill-gotten gains.
But the court heard he is currently penniless, despite making £90,000 from the smuggling plot, meaning he must pay back the nominal sum of just £1 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Former colleague Anthony Lamb, who benefited to the tune of £5,000, must pay back that amount.
David Lister, who pocketed £45,000, is also said to be lacking any available assets and so must also pay just £1.
Thompson, who rose to the rank of Acting Sergeant during his time with Cleveland Police, was part of an organised crime gang illegally importing the cigarettes.
The 43-year-old, along his ex-colleague Lamb, used his knowledge of the legal system to evade millions of pounds of duty, producing letterheads and fake email addresses to hijack around 16 North East businesses as a front to hide the scam from the authorities.
Over a three-year period the gang tricked freight agents by setting up a string of aliases under the fake name David Wilson and hijacking companies with telephone lines and email addresses. More than 21 containers arrived at Felixstowe, Suffolk, from ports in Dubai, Singapore, Turkey and Greece before Lister, 49, of Lakenside Caravan park, Norfolk, used fake documents to collect the cargo and transport to the region.
In total officers from HM Revenue and Customs intercepted 21 shipments and they discovered the gang had carried out dummy runs by importing six shipments of paving slabs.
When they seized a further seven of the huge containers, they discovered a haul of 59,560,000 cigarettes which evaded VAT just short of £11m.
But prosecutors claim they may never know the true value of the cigarettes because eight of the containers were never found.
They estimated those shipments may have represented another £10m in lost revenue. Thompson, of Burdon Walk, Castle Eden, County Durham, was jailed for six years last July after admitting conspiracy to evade cigarette duty.
Lamb, 50, of Ashbourne Drive, Coxhoe, County Durham, pleaded guilty to the same charge and was locked up for five years.
Haulage worker Lister admitted he collected 11 of the containers and had helped organise the collection of a further five. He was jailed for two years.