THE BIG READ: Joint action across Lincolnshire to stub out illegal cigarette racket costing the UK billions
The trade in illegal tobacco at stores in Spalding and across Lincolnshire has suffered a Â£50,000 blow after a joint intelligence operation on Tuesday and Wednesday.
More than 130,000 cigarettes, 42 kilogrammes (kgs) of hand-rolling tobacco and almost 3,600 litres of alcohol, all thought to be illicit, were seized by a team from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), police and trading standards who raided 36 stores in Spalding, Boston, Grantham and Lincoln.
Ten of the stores targeted where in Spalding where more than 36,000 illegal cigarettes, with a retail value of nearly £11,700, 1.4 kgs of hand-rolling tobacco, 12.6 litres of spirits and two vehicles were seized during the operation.
Sergeant Kim Enderby from Lincolnshire Police’s alcohol licensing team, said: “This was a multi-agency, intelligence-led operation and a large quantity of cigarettes were seized at some of the stores raided.
“Some of the premises where seizures were made have previously been subject to police action and/or premises licence revocation.
“Police and HMRC officers also recovered cigarettes from two vehicles parked close to some the stores and which intelligence indicated were involved in the transportation of the illegal products.
“Officers forced entry to the vehicles and recovered cigarettes from the boot.”
In total, the two-day operation uncovered a suspected illegal tobacco and alcohol trade which would have cost the Lincolnshire economy nearly £55,000, including more than £12,000 of lost tax revenue in Spalding.
An investigation into the illegal cigarette industry by our sister newspaper, the Spalding Guardian, in July 2015 found that tobacco fraudsters were costing the UK about £2 billion a year in lost taxes.
Sgt Enderby said: “Having three agencies working together in this operation allowed us to identify numerous potential offences, share information and cause as much disruption as possible to criminals involved in this activity.
“My team remaina committed to taking every action possible to prevent stores in our county being used to sell items which are illegal and dangerous to members of the public who purchase them.
“Further similar operations are planned for the months ahead and I would welcome information from members of the local community who can identify stores who are operating in this way.”
The joint operation in Spalding was led by the HMRC whose assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service, Stuart Taylor, said: “Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clamp down on the illicit tobacco market which costs the UK around £2 billion a year.
“In addition, the sale of illicit alcohol costs the UK around £1 billion per year.
“All of this is theft from the taxpayer, it undermines legitimate traders and, as tax fraud, is not acceptable.
“The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated by us, or our partner agencies, and we will tackle it head on.
“We are levelling the playing field for legitimate local businesses who cannot compete with their criminal competitors and, to help us, we would encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
Lincolnshire (County Council) Trading Standards has also teamed up with Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue to highlight the dangers of illegal cigarettes, with its officers having seized more than 138,000 counterfeit items in the county between January 2013 and June 2016.
Andy Wright, principal trading standards officer at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “Sales of counterfeit and illicit cigarettes continue to be a concern to us and we are actively working with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the police to crack down on the criminals that sell them.
“The joint operation in Lincolnhire last Tuesday and Wednesday, September 27 and 28, is a clear example of partnership working at its very best.
“This seizure sends a clear message that we will not tolerate the import or sale of counterfeit and illicit products in our county.”
The joint operation by HMRC, Lincolnshire Police and Lincolnshire Trading Standards against illegal tobacco and alcohol sales has been praised by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire.
Coun Marc Jones, an advocate of forging closer ties between the police and other law enforcement bodies, said: “Operations like this are a great example of agencies working together to protect the public of Lincolnshire from harm.
“These operations take a huge amount of pulling together but the result clearly paid back the effort of all involved.”