- Group had made 165,000 bottles of fake alcohol between 2008 and 2009
- Produced fake goods from a remote manufacturing plant in Leicestershire
- Hugely dangerous plant could have easily exploded due to vodka vapours
- Officers found 25,000 litres of methylated spirits at plant - enough to make 100,000 bottles of vodka
A gang who produced 9,000 bottles of sub-standard fake vodka in a £1.5m scam have been jailed.
The five men attempted to flood the market with fake alcohol by producing the vodka from their own bottling and distribution plant near Great Dalby, Leicestershire.
Officers seized 9,000 bottles marketed as Glen's vodka, as well as manufacturing equipment and counterfeit packaging.
Gang: The five men (left to right), Kevin Eddishaw, John Mark Humphreys, Mark Gyles, Michael Matthews and James Fyfe produced fake spirits 'with no thought for the safety of themselves or others'
A court heard that the hugely dangerous operation could have triggered a major explosion, as the alcohol vapour alone from the vodka would have caused a massive blast if a naked flame or cigarette had been lit.
Today Kevin Eddishaw, 57, from Southwell, Nottinghamshire, John Mark Humphreys, 46, from Newark, Nottinghamshire, James Fyfe, 51, from Nottingham and Michael Matthews, 56, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, were jailed for a combined 16 years and ten months.
The fifth member of the group, Mark Gyles, 48, from Nottingham, received a 12-month sentence, suspended for 12 months.
Hull Crown Court heard there was a complete lack of any fire or safety measures in the gang's unit, posing a serious and life-threatening hazard.
The manufacturing and distribution plant was set up 'without any thought for the safety of those working there or nearby'.
Police seized 9,000 bottles of fake vodka at the remote production facility used by the gang in Leicestershire
The five men produced a further 165,000 bottles of vodka falsely marketed as 'Glen's' between 2008 and 2009
The court heard Eddishaw was the principal gang member who masterminded the plot, while Humphreys was his right hand man and Fyfe the site foreman of Moscow Farm.
Gyles was a driver who transported the goods, with Matthews employed as a printer who obtained supplies of counterfeit labels and boxes.
A spokesperson for HMRC said the revenue loss to the Exchequer due to the scam was thought to be £1.5m.
Mass scale: Huge pieces of manufacturing equipment can be seen inside the plant in remote Leicestershire
Officers also found 25,000 litres of pure denatured alcohol, enough to produce 100,000 bottles of vodka
Simon De Kayne, assistant director of criminal investigation for HMRC, said: 'This was a substantial production, bottling and distribution plant with the infrastructure to distribute large quantities of counterfeit Glen's vodka throughout the country.
'But it was set up without any thought for the safety of those working there or in the area nearby.
'The gang were fully aware the counterfeit vodka they manufactured contained highly dangerous chemicals, making it unfit for human consumption, but were interested only in making a profit at the expense of British taxpayers.'
Evidence showed that at least a further 165,000 bottles of fake vodka were manufactured at Moscow Farm during 2008 and 2009. They had been distributed to independent stores across the UK.
Dangerous: The group used bleach to remove the colouring from methylated spirits in the plant, before diluting it to the required strength for vodka
Scam: Huge amounts of counterfeit packaging and labels were also seized as part of the operation
HMRC officers had seized the same illicit vodka from shops in Salford, London and South Wales. Forensic analysis showed it was a positive match for the vodka seized at Moscow Farm.
In addition, more than 25,000 litres of pure denatured alcohol (methylated spirits) was seized, enough to make around 100,000 bottles of vodka.
Denatured alcohol is used as a solvent and contains hundreds of additives. It is coloured purple to distinguish it from drinkable alcohol and is not fit for human consumption.
Bleach was used by the gang to remove the colouring to make it clear before diluting to the required strength.