A man who smuggled more than a million illegal cigarettes into the country in parcels labelled as ‘leather shoes’ has been sentenced.

Ashley Clinton-Carter, 60, of Mill Hill, set up 17 accounts at mailbox delivery outlets in London under the alias of John Bull to smuggle cigarettes into the UK from China.

Clinton-Carter was arrested on February 5 2015 carrying parcels containing 16,800 illicit cigarettes that he had collected from an outlet in Harrow.

During an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), officers found customs declarations for November 2014 to February 2015 which showed the packages should have contained ‘clothes’ or ‘leather shoes’ - A further 251,600 cigarettes were seized.

Another 810,200 cigarettes, addressed to the mailboxes, were seized by Border Force officers at Heathrow and Coventry airports.

A total of £275,000 in unpaid excise duty was evaded.

Daren Cooley, assistant director at the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“Clinton-Carter thought he had the perfect crime that would go unnoticed. But the shoe is on the other foot and now he has a criminal record.

“Criminals selling illicit tobacco threaten the livelihoods of hard working, legitimate businesses by stealing their trade.

“The duty evaded could have paid the starting salary of 12 new nurses in London for a year.

“I encourage anyone with information on this type of fraud to contact HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Clinton-Carter admitted the fraudulent evasion of excise duty on September 24 2018 and was sentenced to 19 months in jail, suspended for two years, at Harrow Crown Court on October 9 2018.