An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco across Greater Manchester and Merseyside uncovered nearly two million cigarettes and more than 80 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, all believed to be illicit.
Around 120 officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with support from local council trading standards, police, and British Gas, visited 82 retail premises and eight self-storage units on 28 and 29 June.
The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to suspected illegal tobacco being seized and other potential offences being detected at 26 premises.
Six tobacco dogs and their handlers helped officers uncover cigarettes hidden in various parts of the shops, including:
• 1,815,960 cigarettes, with an estimated £453,241 of duty and VAT evaded;
• 83.3 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, with an estimated £21,343 of duty and VAT evaded.
Sandra Smith, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco 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 £2.4bn a year.
“By combining intelligence and resources with other agencies we are able to disrupt suspected criminal activity including but not exclusively tax evasion. These offences undermine legitimate traders and we want to level the playing field for all businesses.
“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to contact us on 0800 788 887.”
In addition to the HMRC tobacco seizures:
• Eight properties were targeted on suspicion of energy theft by British Gas’ revenue protection team, with more than £40,000 of energy thought to have been stolen from four of the properties alone
• a cannabis farm including 29 plants was dismantled in Liverpool
• one van, being used to transport tobacco that was believed to be illicit, was seized
• each premises where a suspected offence was detected will now have the business accounts audited and the owner and employees may be subject to personal financial scrutiny by HMRC.
Andy Norman, head of customer services field collections, British Gas, said: “Electricity and gas theft in homes and businesses is a serious issue, which places lives at risk and adds unnecessary costs to customers’ bills. This latest joint operation proves, together, we can tackle energy theft more effectively.
He added: “I’d urge anyone who suspects cases of energy theft in homes and businesses in their local community to call our British Gas tip-off line on 0800 587 2737.”