The trade in illegally imported goods such as cigarettes is set to rise as a result of the economic slowdown, a leaked Home Office letter to the prime minister has revealed. 

Rates of alcohol, tobacco and fuel smuggling are forecast to leap as criminal networks use rising prices from legitimate retailers to their advantage.

The revelation comes as two large hauls of smuggled cigarettes were intercepted by customs officers last month.

Six million smuggled cigarettes worth £900,000, were found hidden within a load of frozen fruit by UK Borders Agency staff. 

A further seven million sticks, concealed among a cargo of grapes, were seized at Dover’s Eastern Docks.

The leaked document, a draft letter written by home secretary Jacqui Smith, also predicts that violent crime could grow at a rate of 19%, while theft and burglaries could rise by up to 7% this year, and 2% in 2009.

It also said that there would be less funding to put police on the streets. 

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said: “People would be astonished if we weren’t looking at the how crime and the economy relate to each other.”