A MAJOR swoop on businesses in Peterborough has resulted in thousands of contraband cigarettes and litres of illicit alcohol taken off the streets.
A high-profile, two-day operation in the city to clamp down on illicit tobacco has resulted in the seizure of 32,000 cigarettes - some containing anything from rat droppings to high-levels of arsenic.
More than 4,220 litres of alcohol including wine, beer, cider and vodka – some of which had been made with a mix of methanol a chemical used to make anti-freeze – were also seized from Peterborough shops.
The crackdown took place on Tuesday and Wednesday last week and was part of a joint initiative by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Cambridgeshire Police and Peterborough City Council’s trading standards officers.
More than 50 retail, business and domestic premises were raided across the city.
They seized contraband, representing a total tax loss to the Government of £20,000, from 26 of the properties.
Many of the products were real brands which had been smuggled in to the country without tax and duty being paid.
In other cases illegally manufactured cigarettes and alcohol were seized.
Peter Gell, the council’s strategic regulatory services manager, said: “This illegal trade is a growing industry, which we are getting more and more intelligence about, and the real problem is you don’t know what’s in the cigarettes or alcohol.
“Some of the illegally made vodka has been found to contain high levels of methanol, which is used to make anti-freeze and some fuels. Drinking it can be incredibly dangerous and could cause dizziness, breathing difficulties and even blindness.
“Production often takes place in unhygienic conditions.”
He added: “There is evidence the counterfeiting of alcohol in the UK is being taken over by organised gangs, setting up factories and making alcohol on an industrial scale, which then gets shipped out to off-licences, pubs and clubs.”
Many cigarette brands seized in Peterborough were what are known as “cheap whites” including Jin Lin and L&Ms.
They are effectively made purely for smuggling and can often be obtained in large quantities by organised crime gangs who smuggle them into the UK.
They are then sold illegally on the streets in residential areas, pubs and clubs and some small independent retail shops.
Counterfeit alcohol, such as the bottles of vodka which were found in Peterborough, are delivered to be sold at shops from the backs of vans across the country.
Some are made in illegal factories, while others are smuggled from Eastern Europe where it is made on an industrial scale.
Sergeant Matt Bill said street drinking is a target for police in the Peterborough.
He said: “This operation has resulted in a large amount of cheap alcohol taken off the shelves and will ultimately contribute towards reducing the problem.
“Residents can be assured we will continue to work with partners to target those who supply illicit, counterfeit or smuggled goods.”
Stuart Crookshank, HMRC assistant director, said “Low-cost tobacco and alcohol products can often seem attractive to local people, lured into purchasing at what seem like bargain prices.
“The truth is the goods have been smuggled and sales are unlicensed and unregulated.
“Those involved are not concerned if they are selling to children and underage young people and the illicit trade has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers and the community.
“With more than £2 billion in tax revenue drained from the public purse each year by tobacco smugglers, the problem of excise fraud is real and we are determined to crack it.”