THOUSANDS of suspected illegal cigarettes have been seized in a series of raids across Middlesbrough.
Following co-ordinated raids at two premises in the town search teams seized nearly 20,000 illicit cigarettes and a quantity of hand rolling tobacco that was discovered hidden under floorboards and in false compartments.
And Trading Standards chiefs warned illicit tobacco sellers and suppliers in the town that the on-going crackdown would leave them nowhere to hide.
The warning followed a joint operation involving Middlesbrough Trading Standards, HM Revenue and Customs, Trading Standards Scambusters North East and Cleveland Police.
Middlesbrough Council’s principal trading standards officer Sinead Upton said: “This operation sends out a clear message that despite an evident market for illegal tobacco in Middlesbrough, we now have the means to find it and tackle it.
“Those tempted to try to profit from this deadly trade need to know that we will continue to work closely with our partners to stamp it out.”
The hidden cigarettes and tobacco were discovered by specially trained sniffer dogs.
Diane Donnelly, assistant director of Criminal Investigation for the HMRC, said: “HMRC works closely with other enforcement agencies to crack down on illicit tobacco in the UK.
“Seizing illicit product is only one of the tools used; the focus is on using a range of interventions, from penalties to prosecutions, to encourage compliance and maximise deterrent.
“Partnership working with Trading Standards is vital in order to share intelligence and collaborate on joint exercises such as Operation Henry to target those areas with the highest levels of illicit tobacco activity.”
Anyone with any information about illicit tobacco sales is urged to call the Tobacco Hotline on 01642-728869.