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Three brothers caught with a haul of nearly a million black market cigarettes were jailed for a total of 44 months on Monday.

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Market traders Cliff and Roy Collins – and their brother Francis – all from Danbury Street, Islington, bought the foreign and counterfeit tobacco to sell on to unsuspecting punters in London pubs.

They were put under surveillance after customs officials noticed them making regular trips to the family lock-up in Borough. They were caught red-handed last October and a search later revealed an inventory running to 887,000 cigarettes.

These included packets of Benson and Hedges illegally imported from the Middle East and counterfeit cigarettes in cartons bearing the Spanish Palace brand.

None of the £176,440 duty due to HM Revenue and Customs had been paid, the Old Bailey heard.

Prosecutor Neil King accepted the brothers did not know some of the cigarettes were fakes, but said: “Once you dabble in the black market, you end up with black goods. There were no health checks. They could have been anything, frankly.”

Tony Wyatt, defending Cliff and Roy Collins, said they succumbed to temptation as they saw the profits from their market stalls tumble.They now accept this was “very foolish and stupid.”

Mark Bagshawe, for Francis Collins, urged the judge to impose a lesser sentence because of his client’s eye condition, which renders him partially-sighted.

Judge Joanna Korner QC, told the brothers: “Fraud on the revenue is not, as it is sometimes thought, a victimless offence. That is why the courts treat it so seriously.”

The trio admitted conspiring to fraudulently evade customs tariffs. Cliff Collins, 53, and Roy Collins, 47, were handed 16-month sentences, while Francis Collins, 41, was jailed for a year.

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