A Middlesbrough store flagrantly dealing in dangerous illegal tobacco has been shut down.
The court-ordered closure of Vilem Grocery in Crescent Road followed a multi-agency operation targeting the illicit trade.
When Middlesbrough Council’s Trading Standards officers – backed by public protection staff, Cleveland Police, street wardens and a tobacco detection dog – raided the store on July 7, they seized 10,800 illicit cigarettes and 2.75kg of hand rolling tobacco.
The tobacco products - found concealed in a purpose-built hide in the ceiling - did not display the correct labelling including health warnings and many of them were counterfeit.
Illicit cigarettes often do not contain the special strips that cause them to extinguish safely, presenting more of a fire risk.
The raid took place as part of Operation CeCe, a National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with HMRC to tackle illegal tobacco.
Teesside magistrates have today (Tuesday, July 20) issued a three-month closure order against Vilem Grocery after hearing evidence from Trading Standards.
A copy of the closure order has been placed on the shop and provided to interested parties. A criminal investigation is continuing.
Judith Hedgley, Head of Middlesbrough Council’s Public Protection Service, said: “This seizure shows the increasingly sophisticated methods that are being employed by those in the illicit tobacco trade to evade enforcement.
“Officers from the Public Protection Service will continue to seek out those supplying illicit tobacco and we will use all legal powers available to us - including the increased use of closure orders - to stamp out this despicable trade.”
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “Illicit tobacco isn’t a victimless crime as some see it – it’s linked to organised crime, with lethal consequences for all involved.
“Not only does it bring crime into our communities, but it’s also a key reason for our young people taking up smoking.
“We need to stamp that out, and this closure order sends out a clear warning that we’re coming after those who think they can make a quick buck by putting other people’s lives at risk.
Anyone with information on the supply of illicit tobacco from any business or residential premises in Middlesbrough is urged to call the Trading Standards hotline on 01642 728223 or email EHTS@middlesbrough.gov.uk.