A couple who evaded £100,000 in tax selling illegal cigarettes through Facebook groups have been sentenced following a major investigation. 

Jay Blackburn, 30, and his wife Shavannah Blackburn, 25, from Benfleet, were identified by HMRC investigators as being responsible for a series of adverts selling illicit tobacco through social media sites across Canvey, Southend, Benfleet, Basildon and South Woodham Ferrers.

The pair sold the illicit cigarettes and tobacco from their home using a closed Facebook group, which had more than 2,000 members.

They pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of excise duty at Basildon Crown Court.

On March 22 Jay Blackburn was jailed for two years, while Shavannah Blackburn was handed an 18-month community order and made to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work at the same court.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “The Blackburns thought they could hide from the authorities using closed groups on social media sites to sell cheap illicit cigarettes, but HMRC remains one step ahead to crack down on this criminal activity.

“There is nothing to like about selling illegal tobacco on Facebook – as the Blackburns are finding out to their cost.

“This creates an uneven playing field for legitimate, honest traders and depriving the UK’s public services of vital funding. I would urge anybody with information about individuals or businesses involved in tax fraud to report it to HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Information about any type of tax fraud can be reported to HMRC online at www.gov.uk/report-an-unregistered-trader-or-business.