Westminster City Council’s trading standards team have seized almost 5,500 cigarettes after joining forces with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators to inspect shops allegedly selling illegal tobacco.

Acting on information obtained through previous investigation, the teams visited three shops in Westminster with sniffer dogs on Thursday 22nd May and found cigarettes that ‘raised questions’ at all the shops.

Some of the cigarettes didn’t have the correct health warnings on them. Others had been bought abroad and hadn’t had the right duty paid on them. At one shop, HMRC also seized almost 11,000 litres of beer, wine and spirits with approximately £31,400 worth of duty owing.

Supported by the Metropolitan Police, it was the third day of ‘Operation Wagtail’ that also saw checks on shops in Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea.

In such operations, all illegal alcohol and cigarettes are seized, with those holding them facing further investigation, cautions and possible prosecution.

Westminster City Council trading standards officer Frank King said: “It’s important that anyone buying cigarettes and alcohol in Westminster knows they’re getting legitimate goods. Shopkeepers tempted to make a fast buck through selling dodgy or illegally sourced products should know that when we seize them, a boost to the bottom line can soon turn into a black hole in the accounts.”

Jennie Kendall, spokesperson for HMRC, said: “HMRC officers work closely with trading standards across London disrupting the gangs that deal in illicit tobacco and alcohol. We have seized illegal goods and those involved may face criminal prosecution. This illegal trade has a devastating effect on legitimate retailers, who have to compete with black market traders.

“We appeal to local people and businesses to join us in the fight against crime and encourage anyone with information on illegally imported goods, or tax evasion and fraud, to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 595000.”