Escaped British prisoner found working in underground cigarette factory in Spain

Chiara Giordano
Daniel Dobbs, 31, who escaped from prison in Yorkshire in 2018, was one of 20 people arrested in Malaga, southern Spain, after police found an underground counterfeit cigarette factory, 11 February, 2020: Guardia Civil/NCA

A British prisoner who disappeared from his jail cell in 2018 has been arrested in Spain after he was found working in an illegal underground cigarette factory.

The clandestine operation – hidden 13ft below a stable – could churn out 3,500 cigarettes an hour and is believed to be the first of its kind in Europe.

Daniel Dobbs was allegedly part of the gang behind the operation, which Europol said generated more than half a million pounds (€635,000) in criminal profits per week.

The 31-year-old, nicknamed “Dobbo”, from Malton, in North Yorkshire, was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years in prison in January 2014 after he was convicted of trafficking heroin and amphetamines.

However he vanished from his cell at HMP Hatfield Lakes, a category D open prison in South Yorkshire, in November 2018.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) tracked him down to Spain, where he was living under a false name, and he was arrested in Monda, near Malaga, on 11 February as the Spanish Civil Guard smashed an organised crime group.

He was detained alongside 19 other people, mostly from Britain, who are also suspected of being involved.

Police seized more than three million cigarettes, as well as 20kg of hashish and 144kg of cannabis, three weapons and GPS tracking and jamming devices.

A shipping container masked the entrance to the bunker, which was accessed through a forklift and stairs.

The facility, which had been operating since 2019, included bunkbeds and a kitchen for six Ukrainian workers who were forced to live and work in dangerous and unsanitary conditions and not allowed to leave on their own.

An electric generator provided an air supply to the bunker, however it had shut down on the day of the arrests either because it had run out of fuel or because someone switched it off.

The Spanish Civil Guard said all six workers could have died from lack of oxygen if officials had not found them in time.

A spokesperson said: “When noticing the lack of air, they went to the exit of the bunker, which was blocked from the outside, and began to scream and hit the container that blocked the exit.

“Although the members of the arrested criminal organisation knew about the six workers inside, they did not show it at any time to the officials in charge of the investigation.

“If the acting force had not located the clandestine factory in time, the lack of oxygen would have made the conditions of the underground facilities incompatible with the lives of the workers who were there.”

The NCA said Dobbs would be returned to the UK once the Spanish investigation and judicial proceedings have ended.

Alison Abbott, of the NCA’s offender lifetime management unit, said: “Dobbs’ arrest is a fantastic result and shows the power of our international partnerships.

“British fugitives should know that we will catch up with them no matter where they are.”

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