With the key festive sales period in full swing, a concentration of HMRC efforts to disrupt the illicit trade is reaping results.

Last week two consignments of illicit alcohol and hand-rolling tobacco worth £270,000 were seized in Leicestershire.

Nearly 25,000 litres of non-UK duty paid beer was removed from a lorry on the M1, and 1.2 tons of hand-rolling tobacco was seized from a van at a service station on the A1, near Oakham.

Keith Morgan, specialist investigation detection manager for HMRC, said it would stop at nothing to "deter and disrupt those dealing in illicit trade".

He added: "It has a devastating effect on legitimate retailers having to compete with black market traders, particularly at one of the busiest times of the year for alcohol and tobacco sales."

Increased HMRC activity has also uncovered supposedly legitimate retailers selling illicit stock. A store in Birmingham is under investigation after nearly 11,000 smuggled 'cheap white' cigarettes and 1.6kg of counterfeit Golden Virginia rolling tobacco were seized in a raid last week. The goods were concealed under the counter.

Independent retailer and Tobacco Retailers Alliance spokesman Ken Patel said he was disappointed by the news. "I would urge all retailers to report instances of people selling illicit tobacco, and not be tempted themselves. The impact on fellow retailers, and the penalties, are severe," he added.

As C-Store went to press it emerged that a man found dead in a van in Sunningdale, Berkshire, was involved in the illicit tobacco trade and owed money to a criminal gang.