The illegal tobacco industry has continued to thrive throughout lockdown and Walsall Trading Standards, in partnership with West Midlands Police and a specialist search-dog team, swooped on local shops and vehicles during Operation Dobermann last week.
Assisting boots on the ground were three highly trained sniffer dogs, Yoyo, Maggie and Cooper, in what is one of Walsall’s most lucrative raids to date.
Cigarettes and tobacco were found behind the counter in shops and in car boots, with a single stash of 129,000 counterfeit cigarettes and 53kg of tobacco found in a van in Caldmore.
In one store, tobacco dog Yoyo sniffed out a sophisticated concealment whereby a key fob operated the movement of part of a wall in the storeroom revealing numerous packets of illicit cigarettes.
Councillor Garry Perry, deputy leader for resilient communities and portfolio holder for public protection in Walsall said: “This is fantastic work by Walsall Trading Standards officers and the police at a time when the pressures on these services are already immense due to the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown.
"These raids show we need to remain vigilant in our efforts to stamp out the illegal tobacco trade.
“The amount seized in last week’s raids and the incredible lengths these people will go to to conceal and sell illegal tobacco products makes it clear there is big money involved here - this is not a side operation but full-scale organised criminal activity.
“It is far from ‘harmless’. Tobacco bought on the illegal market is often the product of organised criminal activity with links to human trafficking, drugs and even terrorism.
"This brings crime into Walsall and exploits vulnerable people. Many traders are prepared to sell to children in order to get them hooked on smoking.
"Walsall Trading Standards have a zero tolerance approach to these matters and will use every enforcement technique at their disposal to disrupt this type of activity.”
Walsall Trading Standards investigations into the raids and illegal cigarette sales are ongoing.
You can report the sale of illegal tobacco to Trading Standards anonymously. Call 0808 223 1133 or email email@example.com