An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Southampton has uncovered more than 8,000 cigarettes, 5.7 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco and 500 litres of alcohol.

More than 100 officers were deployed in the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) led operation, with support from Hampshire Police, Southampton City Council Trading Standards, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force officers. Two specialist Border Force tobacco dogs were also deployed. Investigators visited 19 retail premises across the city on Wednesday 24 September.

The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to tobacco and alcohol products being seized from 12 premises. They included:

  • 8,155 cigarettes;
  • 5.7 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco;
  • 0.45 kilos of shisha tobacco;
  • 202 litres of wine;
  • 121 litres of beer;
  • 178 litres of spirits.

It is estimated around £8,500 of duty and VAT may have been evaded.

In one shop officers found a baggy overcoat with individual packets of cigarettes and tobacco hidden inside the lining, sleeves and pockets. At another store tobacco was concealed under papers in a newspaper stand, and tobacco goods were also found concealed within a display stand at the same outlet.

HMRC officers will also investigate associated tax offences. Police and Trading Standards will be following-up four licensing enquiries. Immigration enforcement officers carried out checks to ensure that staff were legally present in the UK and had the right to work.

John Cooper, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 bn a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1 bn per year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

PC Andy Sparshott, of Hampshire Constabulary, said: “Hampshire Constabulary provided officers from local community policing teams in support of the HMRC operation in order to reassure the public who may have been concerned by the increased activity in their community.”

Clive Robinson, Southampton City Council’s team leader for trading standards, said: “Working with partners to protect both consumers and legitimate businesses is good news for Southampton’s residents and taxpayers. Our Trading Standards Officers are making further enquiries and we will be examining what additional actions, including licence reviews where appropriate, can be taken.”