Forecourt retailers with off licences should always buy their wines and spirits from reliable sources, says the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), after reports that up to a quarter of retail outlets in some parts of the country are stocking counterfeit alcohol products.

Spot checks carried out by Trading Standards officials late last year in the South West revealed that 26% of outlets had counterfeit products on their shelves, while in Manchester 17% were offering fake stock. Most of the illegal products were copies of best-selling brands, some of which had tell-tale signs such as spelling mistakes on the label.

Trading Standards is concerned that counterfeit alcohol, often made in illegal factories in the UK and sold to retailers from unmarked vans, may be harmful to the health. Its spot checks are often prompted by complaints for the public about the quality of wines and spirits purchased in local shops.

FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “These shocking figures reveal the scale of this crime and demonstrate once again that retailers have to be very careful who they buy from, as trading in counterfeit goods is not only against the law, but will also ruin a shop’s reputation with its customers.

“Any experienced store owner should know if the price they are offered is too good to be true, and if the source is an established wholesaler. Counterfeiting wines and spirits, like trading in alcoholic products on which UK duty has not been paid, is a large-scale criminal industry, and retailers should be aware that they are complicit in this illegal activity if they buy products outside the legitimate supply chain. They should be very careful who they source their stock from.”