Sniffer dog found illegal tobacco stashed in wall

Ozzy, a sniffer dog used by Wigan Council to detect counterfeit goods
Ozzy, a sniffer dog used by Wigan Council to detect counterfeit goods

A WIGAN shop owner who stocked thousands of illicit cigarettes was caught out when a sniffer dog discovered his secret stash.

Trading Standards officers raided town centre firm Pound Bargains last year and found a bumper haul of illegal tobacco products hidden in a wall behind display racks.

The black market harms local neighbourhoods in a number of ways, by fuelling criminal activity, threatening livelihoods and putting legitimate retailers out of business

Alan Blundell

Shaukat Abhuji, 43, who pleaded guilty to a charge of offering to supply goods prohibited by safety regulations, received a £1,085 fine and has since passed on ownership of the Crompton Street shop.

Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court heard this week that Abhuji had stocked the products, which did not have the necessary health warnings on the packs, because he was struggling to make a profit.

James Littlehales, defending, said his client was remorseful for his actions, pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had only started stocking the items for a short time before the raid in November.

The court had previously been told that Abhuji informed Trading Standards officers he had hidden the products because he thought he needed a licence to sell them, which he did not have.

But Alison Henderson, prosecuting, said no enquiries had been made to the authorities about obtaining such a licence, which would have resulted in him being told it was illegal to stock the goods.

She added: “Trading Standards say it was impossible to believe he thought you would need a licence as he had been present on previous raids when the regulations would have been discussed.”

Local authority officers seized 110 packs of cigarettes and 109 packs of hand rolled tobacco.

The 43-year-old, from Blackburn, was ordered to pay a £270 fine, reduced from £400 for his guilty plea and a victim surcharge of £27. He must also pay £788 in costs.

The presiding magistrate said: “We are not impressed at all by this, you knew this was wrong and you knew you were doing wrong.”

Speaking to the Evening Post after the trial, Alan Blundell, Wigan Council’s assistant director for regulation services, said: “This result sends out a clear message to anyone selling illegal tobacco that it will not be tolerated.

“The black market harms local neighbourhoods in a number of ways, by fuelling criminal activity, threatening livelihoods and putting legitimate retailers out of business.

“We are grateful for the valuable leads we receive from local residents and urge people to come forward with information of any suspicious activity. Wigan Council and Trading Standards will investigate any allegation of illegal tobacco sales.”

Anyone who wishes to report illegal tobacco or any underage sales to Trading Standards in confidence can ring 01942 827476 or email ts@wigan.gov.uk. They can also ring Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.