I’ll fight for a fair deal for town’s traders

Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins outside the boarded up shop.
Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins outside the boarded up shop.

People who flout the law should not expect to be able to hide in our communities or take advantage of our citizens.

And it’s with that in mind that I’ve been both dismayed and delighted in recent weeks.

Illegal cigarette importers had set up a shop in Chesterfield, where dangerous counterfeit cigarettes were being sold – even to children.

Even more appallingly, those arrested in two raids on this store had been naive placemen who protected the criminals running these shady operations.

Worse still, the store was operated by people given refuge in our country who knew that, even if they were arrested, they were immune from deportation due to the dangerous political situation in their original homes.

My sense of anger hardly abated after hosting a meeting attended by legitimate tobacconists and other retailers fuming about the activities of the store, and police officers who were equally appalled that - despite previous successful raids and seizures of stock - the shop continued to trade with impunity, flouting the law to the detriment of legally-compliant competitors and wider community safety.

In this case, by having a private meeting with police, the responsible landlord and Trading Standards to express the frustration that everyone was feeling, we managed to get quick and decisive action to get the store closed.

So a positive result in this case, but there’s still more to do in the fight to clear up our streets.

Derbyshire Trading Standards estimate there are around 14 similar retailers in our county engaged in the illicit tobacco trade; that’s why I’ll be pushing in Parliament for greater Home Office support for the authorities dealing with these rogue traders.

But there’s also a real responsibility on commercial landlords to make sure that they’re expecting more of their tenants than simply paying the rent.

Whilst the counterfeit cigarette trade may involve illegal immigrant communities, it played no part in another Chesterfield store that sells drug-related paraphernalia and ‘legal highs’ marketed as herbal mixes and incense, but used for less altruistic purposes.

The shop in question has been in the spotlight recently following a catastrophic reaction which ensued when one of their lethal ‘legal high’ products fell into the unsuspecting hands of a Chesterfield schoolboy.

I recently met with the boy’s father, David Hilton-Turner, who saw his 14-year-old son on the edge of death after dabbling with the ‘elixir’ Clockwork Orange. It was tough to tell him that these stores are legitimate when they have seen the catastrophic consequences of so-called legal highs.

I’ve contacted the landlords of this store to see how they reconcile its use with their responsibility as a commercial landlord.

The expectation that those who play by the rules get a fair deal is a precious one, and one I will fight to maintain in our Town.

by Toby Perkins, MP