A 71-year-old pensioner “robbed the NHS” out of more than £54,000 through his illicit cigarette activities, York Crown Court heard.

Now Kenneth Reginald Wood could lose his savings, house, car and pension as the authorities bid to recoup the money.

Angus MacDonald, prosecuting, said Revenue and Customs officers found 85,500 cigarettes and 112 kilos of rolled tobacco at Wood’s rented storage unit in York.

He had not paid £54,126 due in excise duty on them and other tobacco products found in Wood’s house and car.

Wood told customs officers he had been selling tobacco products to “make extra money to live on,” said Mr MacDonald.

“How do you think the NHS is paid for?” the Recorder of York, Judge Sean Morris asked him.

“They get paid from taxes including duty.

“What you were doing is robbing the NHS in a way – and the defence (department), education, you were depriving them all of money so you could have a fag and make more money for yourself. It is a disgrace.”

HM Revenue and Customs, which prosecuted the case, has started confiscation proceedings against Wood to get the money back.

“Anyone who deals in counterfeit cigarettes could lose their house, their car, their pension, everything,” said the judge. “Let the word go out on the street – buy your cigarettes legitimately.”

Wood, of Ropery Walk, Malton, pleaded guilty to evading excise duty on tobacco products. He was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

He was also fined £8,000 and faces another six months in jail if he doesn’t pay it within 56 days.

For Wood, Kevin Blount said he had been selling “a small number of cigarettes to people he knew”. But he had been exploited by others further up the smuggling chain who had told him he would only get a “slap on the wrist” if he stored tobacco products for them, said the defence solicitor advocate.

The judge told Wood the only reason he wasn’t going to prison was his frail health, his age and his lack of convictions, apart from an old one for handling stolen goods.

Mr MacDonald said officers went to the self storage company on October 22, 2019, for a spot inspection and found Wood’s cache.

They also found CCTV of the 71-year-old pensioner loading boxes into his car on four occasions in September and October 2019 and taking them away.

CCTV showed Wood loading three boxes from the storage unit on September 19, 2019, two on September 28, four on October 15 and three on October 22

Mr Blount said some of the boxes Wood moved from the storage unit had contained his personal possessions, which he had been storing there while he downsized his living accommodation.

He no longer rented the storage unit.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies.

"Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.9 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”