Retailers were targeted in an operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Bolton, which uncovered more than 53,000 illegal cigarettes and over 223 litres of spirits.

Officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and support agencies, including four tobacco dogs and their handlers, visited 11 retail premises and storage units on Wednesday 24 June.

The visits, as part of HMRC’s multi-agency activity, led to non-UK duty paid tobacco and alcohol products being seized from ten premises. This included:

• 53,340 cigarettes, with £16,375 duty and VAT evaded;

• 63.1kgs of hand-rolling tobacco and 1.5kgs of Shisha, with £15,200 duty and VAT evaded; and

• 223.7 litres of spirits, with £2,930 duty and VAT evaded.

During the exercise a Vauxhall Vivaro van, being used to store excise goods, was also seized.

Sandra Smith, 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 £2.1bn a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1bn 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 595000.”

HMRC are supported by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and Home Office Immigration Enforcement in their work to tackle illicit tobacco and alcohol.

Detective inspector Chris Mossop, of GMP’s Bolton division, said: “In Bolton we have been disrupting organised crime groups at all levels and have achieved some excellent results by working closely with a host of partner agencies.

“These warrants are a joint response by GMP and HMRC to target the organised crime groups that are illegally selling tobacco to fund their lives of crime.

"We want to satisfy ourselves, and the communities of Bolton, that illegal products are not being sold in our communities.”