Arrest an ‘occupational hazard’ for jailed smuggling-ring driver

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A CRIMINAL who was caught on the M62 with tobacco that had just been smuggled in from France on a plane had previously told police being arrested was for him “an occupational hazard”.

Nigel Keenan made the comment after being arrested in June last year when thousands of pounds worth of stolen and counterfeit designer goods were seized from lock-ups he rented in Castleford.

That included nine boxes of Umbro football boots, stolen while in transit from Southampton Docks to Cheshire, and a quantity of substandard Next pyjamas which had been donated to charity for shipment overseas but which had somehow ended up in Keenan’s hands.

Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court yesterday on that same date more than 3,000 bottles of wine and spirits as well as 18,000 cigarettes, on which duty had not been paid, were also seized from the lockups, cars or Keenan’s home.

Keenan was on bail when he then went to the Mount Airy airstrip in Beverley Road, South Cave, on January 22 this year. Its records showed he had previously flown from there to France and Belgium in a four-seater Piper aircraft registered to another man.

On that Saturday, Keenan arrived in a white van which was parked at the end of the runway and he and another occupant then began walking down the middle of it, “apparently oblivious to the obvious danger of doing so”.

Mr Sharp said that behaviour attracted the attention of regular users who then saw an aircraft circling and land, and recognised it as the same Piper aircraft. It landed near the van and Keenan and the other man ran and quickly unloaded items from it before driving off when they were challenged.

But the police were alerted and stopped the van on the M62 and officers found 20kg of Amber Leaf and 100.5kg of Golden Virginia hand-rolling tobacco on which £15,615.59 duty should have been paid.

Keenan claimed to have received £200 to pick the goods up as a favour but Mr Sharp suggested his history showed he was a “principal participant” in a smuggling enterprise for money.

Not content with his earlier run in with the law he was then discovered to have moved his illegal commercial enterprise involving stolen goods to another unit in Denby Dale Road, Wakefield using the name John Pontefract.

A sharp-eyed officer Pc Paul Dean became suspicious while visiting the site on unrelated business and on January 31 a search warrant was executed.

Among items seized were 81 Ben Sherman shirts, part of a consignment which was delivered “short” to the TK Maxx distribution centre in Castleford, and more wines, cigarettes and spirits on which no duty had been paid.

The total of duty evaded on all goods seized was £54,419.46 while the retail value of stolen goods found was £5,127.59.

Keenan, 48, of Chatsworth Avenue, Nevison, Pontefract was jailed for two years three months. He admitted five charges of handling, seven of fraudulent evasion of duty, two of offering goods with false trademark, possessing criminal property and importing dutiable goods.

Judge Rodney Grant said continuing to commit crimes on bail aggravated his situation.

Keenan, nicknamed John the Hat for regularly wearing a trilby, has previously served a jail sentence for illegally importing Viagra and wrote a book about his experience called A Stiff Sentence.