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Ipswich: Crackdown on dodgy vendors seizes thousands of illegal cigarettes and booze from town centre shops

14:43 02 May 2014

Multi agency raids on shops in Ipswich looking for illicit alcohol and tobacco. Cigarettes in a secret compartment under the till.

Multi agency raids on shops in Ipswich looking for illicit alcohol and tobacco. Cigarettes in a secret compartment under the till.

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Nearly 10,000 illegal cigarettes and 25 bottles of illicit alcohol were seized yesterday in Ipswich as inspectors swooped on five shops in the town.

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Multi agency raids on shops in Ipswich looking for illicit alcohol and tobacco. Lee Nunn (trading standards) with seized vodka.Multi agency raids on shops in Ipswich looking for illicit alcohol and tobacco. Lee Nunn (trading standards) with seized vodka.

Officers from Suffolk Trading Standards, the police and HM Revenue & Customs launched the operation to crackdown on dodgy vendors who sell the cigarettes and booze at knock down prices.

They were joined by members of the Ipswich Borough Council licensing team and specially trained sniffer dogs.

Two shops in Ipswich town centre were raided simultaneously in order to prevent the owners in one from finding out that inspectors were on the prowl.

Officers were acting on intelligence about the premises and had received search warrants. In both the town centre shops, a sniffer dog found secret compartments stuffed with illicit tobacco.

One of the shops had over 700 packs of tobacco as well as illicit alcohol in a back store.

The officers then moved on to three other premises in the Ipswich area, one of which was found to contain illicit products. A total of 9,560 illicit cigarettes were found during the raids as well as 4.1kg of hand-rolling tobacco. The products represented a £8,679 of duty evaded.

Illicit products can mean cigarettes and alcohol that have been smuggled or bootlegged into the country to avoid paying tax, or counterfeit products that are illegally manufactured.

Fake tobacco has in the past been found to contain harmful ingredients like rat droppings and saw-dust while illegally made alcohol can include anti-freeze and high levels of ethanol, so officers are fearful of the public health risks.

The authorities also brought along experts from Imperial Tobacco and the alcohol industry who could easily spot fake products.

Colin Spence, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for public protection said: “These black market traders cause major problems for legitimate retailers having to compete with so-called bargain prices. Some of the products sold are untested and produced in an environment that is often unsafe and unregulated.

“Those selling illicit products often have no regard to who they sell to, which can include children. Taking these products out of circulation is a positive step for consumers.”

James Garrett, an officer with Suffolk Trading Standards, said the selling of illegal goods was sometimes linked to much higher level crime.

“Sometimes it is petty and low level for example those people just chancing their arm and trying to make a bit of extra cash for themselves,” he said. “However sometimes what you find is some people are doing it on a larger scale and the illicit tobacco and the illicit alcohol trade links back to more organized criminals.”

Stuart Hughes, senior Trading Standards officer, described what happens when the illicit products are found.

“We’ll have to take some of this stuff away, some of it will be sent to trademark holders to confirm whether it is counterfeit or genuine, if it’s genuine then the shop will get it back but we have some trade representatives here and we’ve already confirmed that much of this stuff shouldn’t be being sold.

“We’ll be talking to the shop owner, it will be very precursory chat at the moment, but we will want to speak to him at a later date.”

“We’ve found a small amount on the bottom floor of the premises here, upstairs we’ve found somewhere in the region of 700 packs of counterfeit or illicit tobacco, so obviously that is tobacco that is taking away from the genuine economy here in Ipswich and Suffolk and it undermines the legal traders here who are trying to sell legitimate products.”

Depending on the severity of the offence, selling illegal alcohol or tobacco can result in a fine of £5,000.

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