Huge haul of illegal cigarettes seized in shop raid
More than 25,000 illicit cigarettes and tobacco products were discovered during a raid on a Willenhall shop.
Walsall Council’s trading standards team carried out ‘Operation Rottweiler’, which was supported by HM Customs and Excise officers and Walsall Police, on Wednesday when the haul was found.
And it was mainly thanks to famous detection dog Scamp, who is part of BWY Canine search services, that the shocking discovery was made.
Officers had received intelligence that the illegal operation was taking place at the store but an extensive search of premises initially failed to find the stash.
But Scamp – who this year hit the headlines when a £25,000 bounty was placed on his head by criminals frustrated at his detection success rate – picked up a scent behind a loose plug socket and alerted officers
Their further investigations revealed a stray tobacco pouch had gotten stuck in a concealed chute that led to another room.
The trail led to a small outbuilding, which was mouldy and damp inside, where a man worked passing the illicit cigarettes and tobacco to a shop worker to sell over the counter on request.
Trading standards officers seized a total of 26,280 cigarettes and 98 packets of hand rolling tobacco which, if sold legitimately, would have been worth around £13,500.
Two mobile phones and a laptop were also taken as part of the investigation, which is ongoing.
On the same day, Customs and Excise officers recovered small amounts of illicit cigarettes from another shop in Walsall.
Prior to the Willenhall discovery, the teams had targeted other premises in the borough during the day where information had been received about illegal tobacco sales taking place but no illegal activity was found.
Gemma Fisher, Walsall Council trading standards compliance officer, said: “I thought this was a good result.
“I was a bit disappointed at the start with the first few shops that we did because we know they are selling illicit tobacco but we just can’t manage to find out where it is because they are sophisticated in their ways of hiding it.
“The chute method at Willenhall is a new one. We’ve found them behind walls before but we’ve never seen it on tray being pushed through a socket before.
“It’s about trying to keep up with people as they are just finding new ways to hide what they are doing.
“But these operations are really important and we get a huge amount of complaints about this all the time.
“We work with public health to try to educate the public and warn them of the dangers of counterfeit cigarettes because they are made in factories where there are terrible conditions and you don’t know what’s inside them.
“There is also lots of evidence that the money from operations such as this is used for bigger crimes such as terrorism, modern day slavery so its very important.
“Unfortunately, because they are so cheap and available, people are willing to buy them but hopefully we’ve put a stop to quite a few customers buying from here.”
Report by Gurdip Thandi
Local Democracy Reporter
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