Eleven men have been arrested as a suspected illicit tobacco factory was dismantled in north-west England by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The arrests were made during 17 simultaneous searches across north-west England and Scotland. HMRC found residential premises, farms, self-storage sites and a disused public house were being used to store and process tobacco, in a suspected £12m tobacco tax evasion plot.

During the operation tobacco was found in various stages of processing. HMRC seized approximately 20 tonnes of tobacco, more than £50,000 in cash, counterfeit packaging, shredding, cutting and drying machinery plus other tobacco making paraphernalia. HMRC used tobacco detection dogs in the searches and were assisted by local police and Home Office Immigration Services.

Those arrested have been interviewed and bailed until August and investigations into the seizures are ongoing.

Tony Capon, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime which costs the UK £2.4bn a year in lost taxes. In addition to significant revenue loss, illicit tobacco products damage legitimate businesses and the trade is unregulated making cheaper tobacco more readily available to the young and vulnerable.

“We are determined to disrupt the manufacture and distribution of illicit tobacco across the UK and will continue to work with other enforcement agencies to stamp it out.

“Anyone with information about the smuggling or illegal sale of tobacco and cigarettes can report it by calling our 24-hour Hotline on 0800 595000.”