A MIDDLE AGED couple cheated the state out of more than £100,000 in duty by selling smuggled cigarettes and tobacco.

Gary Calvert and his wife Patricia had 194,700 cigarettes and 590 kilos of tobacco in a bedroom at their terraced house when visited by Customs officers.

Burnley Crown Court heard that the couple, who both claim invalidity benefit, had £100,000 in savings in the bank and had made £65,000 from selling the smuggled items.

Gary Calvert later told probation officers he did not see anything wrong in the operation as he felt the Government was stealing money from him if he was paying taxes.

When Judge Beverley Lunt asked how the Calverts, of Manor Street, Nelson, were getting Government benefits whilst he claimed to have the cash in the bank, she was told by a defence barrister that invalidity benefit was not means tested.

The court was told Gary Calvert suffers from spondilitis whilst his co-defendant, who claimed her husband would disappear and she did not know where the cigarettes were coming from, had asthma.

Yesterday Gary Calvert, who ran the set-up, was spared immediate prison whilst his wife was given a 12 month conditional discharge for her part in the operation. They had both admitted allegations of evading duty.

Judge Lunt said the fraud was substantial despite being very simple.

She said Gary Calvert had been frank with the probation service, some might say too frank. She added: “It’s frank but not a very attractive picture of himself he's painted."

The judge told Calvert his views on what he had done and the Government "stealing" off him were wrong. She added: “There is no justification for it whatsoever."

Calvert was given 32 weeks in custody, suspended for a year and must live at his home address for the next 28 days.

Judge Lunt told Patricia Calvert she obviously knew what was going on but did not take part in it very much. The defendant, who had no previous convictions, was given a 12 month conditional discharge.

The court was told £65,000 cash, the defendants' vehicle and the cigarettes and tobacco found at their home had all been seized.

The Calverts, both 56, now face a proceeds of crime hearing when the judge will rule how much they may have made from illegal activities and force them to hand it over or face possible jail.

Sara Dodd, prosecuting for HM revenue and Customs, told the court officers went to the defendants' home last June 2.

Gary Calvert was in a car and when they looked in the boot, they found 100 50gramme bags of hand rolling tobacco and some lists. They then went into the couple's property and in a back bedroom discovered a large amount of cigarettes and tobacco.

The total amount of duty evaded was £100,916.40. The court heard Gary Calvert was to claim he took the cigarettes and tobacco round to houses and shops and sold it.

Richard Simons, for Gary Calvert, said: "The money seized is total profit. "He was saving the monies for a rainy day. He has lost all of this."

Defending Patricia Calvert, Martin Walsh said she was unsophisticated and subservient to her husband of 30 years.