Illegal drugs seized in swoop on shops

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Potentially lethal medicines and almost 100,000 illegal cigarettes have been seized in a major swoop involving four Spalding shops.

In addition, 28kgs of hand-rolling tobacco was seized, with a total duty loss estimated at £30,000.

The operation on Thursday was part of a joint initiative between HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Lincolnshire Police to clamp down on the county’s illegal tobacco trade.

Officers visited four retail outlets in Spalding and four in Boston, seizing illicit goods at a number of premises.

Although the shops are not being named at this stage, witnesses saw HMRC officers enter Kubus in the Sheep Market and goods being taken from the premises in sealed bags.

Three search warrants were also executed at residential addresses in Boston and one arrest was made in relation to the evasion of excise duty.

As well as the excise goods, police licensing officers seized large quantities of foreign made non-UK market approved medicines, the sale of which is illegal in the UK.

Sgt Jon Mellor, of Lincolnshire Police Licensing Department, said: “The packaging of these materials is written entirely in the language of the country of origin, making it difficult for customers to ascertain what they are purchasing and the hazards that may be associated with it.

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“Additionally, such overseas medicines may not be subject to the rigorous testing and licensing regimes of their UK counterparts, designed to ensure product safety.”

The illegal tobacco goods seized from shops in Spalding were found within particularly complex concealments. These were located with the assistance of specially trained tobacco detector dogs.

HMRC spokeswoman, Clare Merrills, said: “Low-cost tobacco products can seem very attractive, with local people lured into purchasing them at what seem like bargain prices. The truth is these goods have been smuggled and these sales are unlicensed and unregulated. This illicit trade has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers and the local community, with those involved not concerned if they are selling to children and underage young people.

“I would urge local residents and businesses to help in the fight against crime by contacting the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 with any information relating to illegally imported goods, tax evasion and fraud.”

Many of the cigarettes seized were common brands which would have been smuggled into the country. Some of the brands however, such as Viceroy and Minsk Slims, are not manufactured in this country and are not destined for the UK market. These cigarettes are often obtained in large quantities by organised crime gangs who smuggle them into the UK.

They are then sold illegally in residential areas, pubs and clubs and some small independent retail shops. It is believed that the hand-rolling tobacco seized is counterfeit.

Sgt Mellor said: “This is a clear example of partnership work at its very best. The result is a credit to the combined efforts of all agencies involved including South Holland District Council who understand the impact that such illegal activity can have on the local community.

“Lincolnshire Police Licensing Department together with HMRC and Trading Standards, take a very robust and proactive stance. This seizure sends a clear message that we will not tolerate the import or sale of counterfeit products in our county.”