A MAN from Padiham who was involved in a massive operation to smuggle two million tax-free cigarettes into the UK hidden inside wheelie bins has been jailed.

Henry Mooney, 47, of Stockbridge Road, was part of a Europe-wide conspiracy to evade duty on massive consignments of foreign cigarettes, which were shipped from Germany to a warehouse in Manchester, via Holland.

Preston Crown Court previously heard how Mooney worked with fellow smugglers Darren Cooper and Danish Amin to set up the operation.

The trio first arranged for the duty-free cigrarettes to be loaded onto wagons in the Rhine border city of Emmerich in late October 2008.

Contraband cigarettes had been hidden inside wheelie bins and legitimate transport firms were used to transport the load to the UK, so duty could be avoided on the tobacco.

Mooney flew out to Amsterdam in December, at the request of Amin and Cooper, to assist in a second load.

Customs officers recovered the second haul, totalling two million cigarettes, from the Manchester warehouse a few days later. The first load was never found.

Mooney, described by a judge as a 'career criminal', was jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to evade tax duty.

Cooper, 43, of St Annes was jailed for three years and three months.

Danish Amin, 35, of Wesham, was jailed for 38 months.

Five other gang members, from across central Lancashire, Liverpool and North Wales, were also jailed after admitting the conspiracy charge or money laundering.

Michelle Whittaker, 31, of Catherine Street and Amin's girlfriend, was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to evade tax duty and was jailed for 14 months.

The group was targeted by Lancashire Constabulary's Serious and Organised Crime Unit as part of a lengthy operation - codenamed Bittern - which began in May 2008.

Detective Inspector Jo Edwards, who led the investigation, said: "This should a strong warning to people who think they can get away with illegitimately bringing cigarettes, or other goods, into the country.

"We will not tolerate it, you will be targeted and you will be brought to justice and put behind bars."