A BOOTLEGGER was convicted by a jury of trying to smuggle nearly six million cigarettes into Britain through Southampton container port.

Peter Heaney was arrested after customs officers made a spot check on a 40ft-long container that had been shipped from the Far East and, according to paperwork, only contained wooden products. When they broke the seal and investigated, they discovered box after box of cigarettes hidden behind the cargo. The contrabrand was worth almost £778,000 in duty.

Richard Smith, prosecuting at the city crown court, described how officers put the "jigsaw'' back together, resealed the load and an undercover colleague drove it to an industrial unit near Bolton where Heaney was waiting.

Once the haul had been unloaded and put into a warehouse, customs officers moved in and arrested the 49-year-old man.

Heaney, from Kelsal, near Salford, had pleaded not guilty to bootlegging. He was bailed pending sentence next month.