Preston shop raided by police and trading standards in illegal tobacco crackdown
and live on Freeview channel 276
Around 1,400 packs of illegal tobacco worth around £18,000 were found hidden in secret compartments when police searched the shop on Tuesday (January 17).
The concealed compartments had been excavated into walls, including behind false drawer fronts and swing-out wall-fixings. One of the secret compartments was operated with a magnetic key fob.
Around £10,000 in cash was also seized after it was discovered hidden in another concealed compartment. Police said the cash is suspected to be the ‘proceeds of crime’.
Police were joined by Trading Standards officers from Lancashire County Council who inspected the shop and seized a mixture of hand rolling tobacco pouches and packs of cigarettes.
The trader was even caught selling three packs of illicit cigarettes to a customer when officers entered the shop.
The tobacco packets bore foreign or no health warnings, and were not in legally required plain packaging. Around half of the packs seized were also counterfeit.
No arrests were made during the raid but investigations are ongoing, said the Council. The shop has not been named at this stage.
The raid followed tip-offs received from the public, it added, together with complaints about illegal tobacco sales from other enforcement agencies.
County Councillor Michael Green said: "These traders had gone to considerable lengths to hide their haul of illicit and counterfeit tobacco.
"The sophisticated hiding places we are currently finding demonstrate the value of this illegal trade.
"Our officers often find packs stashed away in electronically operated secret compartments under counters and in walls, or hidden in vehicles and store rooms.
"Cheap illicit tobacco is readily available to young people and encourages them to smoke and become addicted.
"The sale and manufacture of illegal tobacco has a negative impact on legitimate local businesses, who find their sales plummet when tobacco shops set up nearby, and on our communities and the health and wellbeing of our young people. We are determined to tackle this type of crime."
During the last twelve months, there have been 37 seizures of illicit tobacco from Lancashire retailers, and 12 convictions in cases brought by Trading Standards at local courts for the supply of illicit tobacco.