Tobacco fraudsters have been jailed for evading customs duty on more than two million cigarettes illegally imported.

Four men from Chingford, London and Doncaster were jailed for evading £610,000 Customs duty on over two million cigarettes illegally imported into the UK.

Chelmsford Crown Court was told that they were kept under surveillance by HM Customs & Excise officers from 2016 in an operation aimed at stopping the supply and distribution of smuggled tobacco.

A "counting house" was raided in Burnside Avenue in Chingford - the home of a leading member of the gang - and seven taped bundles of cash, totalling £199,500 was found in a holdall stashed under a sofa bed.

More than 7,000 cigarettes were also discovered, as well as 25.5kg of rolling tobacco.

The court heard that the warehouse where the tobacco products were stored was located at a unit at Appletree Farm in Braintree.

When Customs officers searched there they found boxes and boxes of Mayfair cigarettes, falsely labelled as stationery products from Germany.

In total there were 1.7 million cigarettes inside the unit and another 540,000 in a van outside.

Prosecutor Anthony Hucklesby said the operation had provided "a window" into the action between two organised crime groups but accepted it was an incomplete picture.

He told Judge David Turner QC that "it represents a snapshot of this enterprise".

The leading man in the conspiracy was Robert Galach, 48, of Burnside Avenue in Chingford who was jailed for a total of four years and five months.

He pleaded guilty to four charges: three offences of possessing criminal property, on July 13 and 16, 2016 and August 28, 2018, relating to £248,680, £199,550 and £27,755.

He also admitted conspiracy to evade duty between July 1, 2016 and August 1, 2016.

Tomasz Wojciechowski, 49, of Markham Square in Edlington, Doncaster, fled the country back to his sick wife in Poland and was convicted in his absence at trial last November.

He was described as "a trusted manager" with knowledge of the storage unit, was convicted of conspiracy to evade duty between July 1 and August 1, 2016 and jailed for three years, plus 28 days, consecutive, for fleeing bail.

Driver, Jawhar Hama, 48, of Grilse Road, Edmonton, London, denied the charges, but was convicted of conspiracy to evade duty; one offence of possessing dutiable goods with fraudulent intent on or before August 9, 2017, namely 40,000 Fest cigarettes; and one offence of possessing criminal property around the same date.

He was jailed for two years and four months.

Cash courier Kazimierz Debczak-Debski, 72, of Fosse Way in Ealing, West London, pleaded guilty to acquiring criminal property, totalling £248,680, on July 13, 2016 and received an 18-month sentence, suspended for two years with a three-month electronically tagged curfew.

The court heard that other surveillance, which began in July 2016 and continued until 2018, resulted in discovery of cash from an intercepted BMW; £127,755 in a bag collected by a defendant visiting the Cork Tree Retail Park in Walthamstow; and an unexpected haul of 40,000 Fest cigarettes and £13,000 cash from an unconnected police stop of a vehicle on the M25.