A BUSINESSMAN has been jailed for four years for smuggling cigarettes in a consignment of reproduction antique furniture.

Manchester Crown Court heard that customs officers seized more than four million cigarettes as they were being brought into the country at Southampton docks.

Responsibility for the massive haul was traced to businessman Roger Glassbrook, 37, of Bankfield Lane, Yate Bank, Darwen and self-employed French polisher Peter Barry McKnight, 38, of Fontwell Lane, Oldham.

Both men originally pleaded not guilty to fraudulently evading £500,000-worth of excise duty on the grounds of duress.

McKnight changed his plea part way through the hearing and Glassbrook, a former director of Downshire House Reproduction Ltd., Abbey Mill, Bolton Road, Chorley, was found guilty.

McKnight was sentenced to three years in prison.

Customs and Excise have welcomed the sentences, which they said shows that cigarette smuggling will not be tolerated.

"We hope this sends out the message to others who are tempted to engage in this activity that we are serious about cigarette smuggling," said a spokesman. "It currently costs the country around £3.6 billion a year in lost taxes, which could be used for schools, hospitals and other community projects.

"Smugglers are not modern-day Robin Hoods, but criminals."

The cigarettes were found among a consignment of antique furniture imported from an Indonesian company part-owned by Glassbrook.

McKnight was arrested as he unloaded the cigarettes at Abbey Mill and Glassbrook was arrested a few days later on his return from a business trip to the United States.