The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is calling on retailers to help it stem a leak of illicit cigarettes onto the UK market, after a vast haul of non-UK duty paid tobacco was stolen from Southampton docks last week.

The haul of 300,000 packs of ‘American Legend’ cigarettes, which bear a distinctive eagle logo, have a street value of almost £2m and were not destined for the UK market. Despite their name, American Legend cigarettes are manufactured in Greece and were en route to Gibraltar via Southampton when they were stolen.

They were taken as part of an elaborate scam in which a fraudster posed as the consignment’s HGV driver. The theft was discovered only when the genuine driver reported for duty long after the lorry had left the docks.

Police are warning that the fraudsters will be keen to sell the haul as soon as possible, and are likely to target independent retailers. SOCA said any retailers approached should “politely decline” and contact it on 0845 045 4545 when safe to do so.