HALF a dozen people have appeared before the court charged with their involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle thousands of cigarettes into the country via army bases in Afghanistan.

But the five men and two women before Swindon Crown Court yesterday could not be sentenced – as the prosecution had not produced a document requested by the judge setting out the value of the fraud.

Former British Army sergeant Gareth Parry, 38, was the leader of the plot. He worked in the British Forces Post Office at Kabul airport, Afghanistan.

It was this position that allowed him to use the import duty system to send parcels of cigarettes and rolling tobacco to contacts back in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire in 2017 and 2018. The parcels are understood to have been flown back into the country via RAF Northolt.

In all, HMRC officers estimate duty went unpaid on more than 200,000 cigarettes at a loss to the taxman of around £60,000.

Last year, it was said during the trial of alleged co-conspirator Jan Coetzee, who was cleared by jurors of conspiracy to fraudulently evade import duty, that imports of up to 50 cigarettes qualified for excise duty relief.

In all, seven people have admitted their part in the import duty scam. They are: Gareth Parry, 38, of Dydale Road, Swindon, Gert Coetzee, 50, of Morecombe Way, Fairford, Jennifer Cherry, 39, of Meadowsweet Close, Swindon, David McEwan, 41, of Cleveland Road, Swindon, Rosie Parry, 31, of Dydale Road, Swindon, Gary Tomlinson, 32, of Gray Road, South Cerney, and Ben Wilson, 32, of Pevensey Way, Quedgeley.

At least two are still serving in the British Army. Barristers for lance corporals Tomlinson and Wilson, respectively Chris Smyth and Matthew Bolt, asked the judge to sentence their clients yesterday – claiming there was a danger the men’s promotion to the rank of corporal could be put at risk if they were not sentenced before the end of the army year on March 31.

Rob Ross, for Jennifer Cherry, said she had fully cooperated with HMRC officers and had a very sick child. She had accepted a parcel of around 2,000 cigarettes at a cost to the taxpayer of around £600 and was unlikely to receive any harsher punishment than a fine.

But Judge Jason Taylor QC said he would not sentence the defendants individually, instead adjourning the case to a date to be fixed. He said: “For those defendants whose advocated have strongly sought to persuade me that you should be sentenced today I am genuinely sorry that I cannot proceed to sentence.” The judge said he hoped the soldiers’ regiments could accommodate the delay, which he stressed was not the fault of those in the dock.