A FAMILY who swindled the taxpayer out of £400,000 in tobacco duty have been found guilty of fraud.

Vickey Whalley, a 45-year-old mother of two, sourced counterfeit and duty free cigarettes and tobacco which she then sold online.

She was helped in her enterprise by husband Paul Whalley, aged 49, and her 68-year-old mother Lynn Abbey.

After two days of deliberation, a jury at Bolton Crown Court unanimously found all three family members guilty on two counts of fraudulently evading duty on tobacco and cigarettes.

Earlier in the trial,which opened on May 9, the jury heard that the family's crimes had come to light after HM Revenue and Customs officers with sniffer dogs inspected Alligator Safe Storage at Egyptian Mill, Bolton in June, 2016.

The dogs found tobacco at a unit hired just weeks earlier by Vickey Whalley.

When officers contacted her she initially denied knowing what was inside the unit, before calling them back a short time later.

Prosecuting, Jonathan Rogers told the jury that she said she had brought tobacco back for her father from a recent trip to Amsterdam.

He added: "What Mrs Whalley didn't tell was that she was, at that time, selling huge amounts of non UK duty paid tobacco."

More than 12 kilos of hand rolling tobacco, 1,500 Mayfair cigarettes and 200 fake Richmond cigarettes were found once the unit was opened.

The jury heard that the Whalleys and Abbey had run their business for four years, since July 2014, and even continued after their arrests in December 2016.

Mr Rogers said that Vickey Whalley "took the lead", selling the illicit tobacco on websites named Dan Dan Doo and Vic Voo ­— aided by her husband and mother.

The family sold sleeves of 200 cigarettes with a recommended retail price of up to £87 for just £35, and tobacco pouches worth £18.56 were offered for £5.

Mr Rogers added: "Websites and Facebook accounts were created under various names and the defendant sold the tobacco products on these websites and sometimes used the thinly veiled cover of selling tee-shirts and cupcakes."

After searching the Whalleys' home in Corner Brook, Lostock, officers found a laptop and mobile phones used to run the business.

Officers also searched Abbey's home in Fourth Lane, Heaton ­— which had temporarily be used for packing and distribution of the cigarettes and tobacco ­— and reported seeing an elderly woman throwing cigarette wrappings in a bin.

All three family members maintained not guilty pleas on both counts throughout the trial.

After thanking the jury, Judge Graeme Smith adjourned the case for sentencing on July 12, while pre-sentence reports are prepared by the probation service.

Addressing the defendants Judge Smith said: "It is very clear that all of you have been lying at some stage throughout."

"The time for lying is over," he added.

"If you maintain the lies when you speak to the probation service the sentence is inevitably going to go upwards. So you need to be very careful what you say."

All three of the defendants were granted bail.