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FOUR Irish gangsters were jailed yesterday for their part in a huge cigarette smuggling racket.

A court heard the men, all Travellers, were part of a gang which had no hesitation using violence against those who stood in their way.

They were convicted of belonging to a criminal organisation suspected of trafficking millions of cigarettes and tobacco to Britain from Belgium.

Limerick men Daniel O'Brien, 34, of Roches Road, Rathkeale, and 19-year-old Richard O'Brien from Monks Hill, Rathkeale, were sentenced along with James Scannel, 25, with an address in Essex and 34- year-old Danny Flynn from Hemel Hempstead, London.

The four were each jailed for two years.

At the hearing in Bruges, Belgium, the judge said the men were part of a large criminal organisation involving around 150 British and Irish Travellers.

He said it had been operating out of truck stops near Belgian ports and intimidating drivers into smuggling for them.

The four men were arrested near the Belgian port of Zeebrugge in January this year. Prosecutors said the men had approached a lorry driver to ask him to bring tobacco to the UK on a ferry crossing.

A second statement from a tobacco shop owner said he had recognised a number of the accused over a period of a year-and-a-half.

The four men said they arrived in the French port of Calais in the early hours of January 21 and checked into a hotel.

They then claimed to have checked into another hotel in Bruges later that afternoon with the intention of driving to an antiques fair in Paris.

However, prosecutors revealed mobile phone records proved they had been in Belgium for a longer period and that the men's testimonies were lies.

The judge said this larger organisation was not afraid to use violence and intimidation to force truck drivers to carry tobacco to the UK.

Although the men were jailed for two years, under Belgian law they could be released in September for good behaviour.
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 11, 2004
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