Dog helps uncover illegal tobacco in raids

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A SNIFFER dog has been used to help to find tobacco with a street value of £6,535 in raids on shops in Chesterfield and Belper to tackle a rising number of illegal cigarette sales.

The dog found tobacco hidden in a vacuum cleaner, a water heater and in concealed panels in security doors in the joint raid led by Derbyshire County Council trading standards officers and police.

More than 14,000 cigarettes and 102 rolling tobacco pouches which are believed to be counterfeit or smuggled were seized in raids on the two premises on Wednesday, March 20.

It was the first time a sniffer dog had been brought in to help officers find counterfeit products which are often carefully concealed around shop premises.

The Chesterfield raid at Bzee Shop, Cavendish Street, led to the seizure of 4,700 cigarettes and 1.85kg of rolling tobacco with a combined street value of £2,200. The tobacco was concealed in a security door and inside a water heater.

Shop worker Omid Said Mohammed appeared at Chesterfield Magistrates on March 21, where he pleaded guilty to a charge under the Trade Marks Act of selling a counterfeit pouch of Golden Virginia tobacco. Mohammed, who failed to give the court a satisfactory address, was sentenced to one day in custody. He claimed to not know the owner of the business and investigations are continuing to establish their identity. It was the second time Bzee Shop had been raided in two months.

The Belper raid resulted in the seizure of 5,500 cigarettes and 1.75kg of rolling tobacco which were concealed in a metal security door and a vacuum cleaner.

A search of a car resulted in the seizure of a further thirty 50g pouches of tobacco, and a search of a Derby flat found 4,000 cigarettes. A man was arrested, questioned, and bailed pending further enquiries.

Councillor Kevin Parkinson, Derbyshire County Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “Bringing in sniffer dogs is just one of the ways we’re sending a clear message to retailers that it just isn’t worth taking the risk of selling counterfeit or non-duty paid tobacco.

“Over the last year we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of reports about counterfeit tobacco and we will act on each and every one.

“Cheap counterfeit and illicit tobacco represents unfair competition for legitimate local traders as it can be sold so cheaply and doesn’t carry the health warnings which are legally required in this country.

“We have a duty to enforce licensing laws and protect public safety and are committed to continuing our efforts to crack down on this illicit trade.”

Complaints to trading standards about the sale of illegal tobacco doubled from 30 in 2011 to 60 in 2012.

Action taken by the county council’s trading standards team saw a 22 per cent rise in the number of seizures of counterfeit tobacco in 2012.

And the authority’s trading standards team is currently conducting nine ongoing investigations into the sale and possession of illegal tobacco.

Anyone with information about the sale of illegal tobacco should call Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08456 040506 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.