A massive illegal tobacco operation has been smashed by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Officers raided a farm in Essex this week, as well as four premises near Bury and another in Blackburn two weeks ago, and seized cash, chemical agents, counterfeit packaging and tobacco packing machinery.

The officers dismantled a tobacco processing plant at a farm in Halstead, Essex, and one man, aged 42, was arrested on suspicion of taking steps to evade excise duty.

More than three tonnes of raw tobacco that was in the process of being converted into counterfeit hand rolling tobacco was seized from an industrial unit in the Bury area, as well as plant equipment, cash and counterfeit packaging. Four men were arrested, two from Bury, both aged 35, and two from Blackburn, aged 41 and 29, on suspicion of taking steps to evade excise duty

The tobacco processing and packing equipment was removed from the Essex farm, the Bury industrial unit and three private addresses, along with a van used by the gang. A further eight tonnes of tobacco valued around £1.8m in evaded duty and tax was seized in Preston in 2013 as part of this operation. All the tobacco seized will be burned to fuel the National Grid.

Sandra Smith, assistant director, criminal investigation, HMRC said: “It is clear from the chemicals and machinery we found that this gang planned to produce and sell illegal tobacco products across the UK.

“Illicit tobacco factories hidden in our communities are packaging low quality tobacco and I’d urge people to be wary. Cheap tobacco may seem like a bargain, but there are no controls over what is mixed into the counterfeit product and by buying it smokers are funding international organised crime gangs.

“Anyone with information about the transport, storage or sale of cheap cigarettes or tobacco in the North West or further afield, can help us by calling the Customs hotline on 0800 595000.”