A retailer from Tyne and Wear who was prosecuted for selling illicit tobacco last month has had his gantry removed by Imperial.

Tajinder Singh, of Washington Wine and Convenience in Usworth, claimed to have bought the counterfeit cigarettes unwittingly from a fraudulent wholesaler.

HMRC officers had seized 900 cigarettes from his shop, 640 of which were confirmed to be counterfeit, and all of which were in plain packaging.

A further 9,400 Lambert & Butler-branded cigarettes were also taken from his home, all of which were later found to be counterfeit.

Singh told South Tyneside magistrates Court that he believed the cigarettes were legitimate, despite being sold for around £3 cheaper than at the local cash and carry.

However, after pleading guilty to fraudulently evading duty on goods, he was fined £640 and told to pay £85 costs and a £64 surcharge.

Imperial’s anti illicit trade manager James Hall said: “We were concerned before the implementation of the new regulations that standardised packaging would hinder – rather than help – in the fight against illegal tobacco, and cases like the above simply reinforce our contention.

“We congratulate both Washington police and HMRC on this recent conviction and continue to offer our assistance in any matters relating to the detection and identification of illicit tobacco, but would suggest that the recent case involving Mr Singh is simply the tip of the iceberg.

“If any wholesalers or independent retailers have suspicions around the sale of illegal tobacco in their area, or have seen any plain packs in their locality they believe may be counterfeit, please act by contacting either the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000, or your local Trading Standards or Police.

“Alternatively, retailers can talk to their Imperial sales rep – ask about our new AIT app, SARA,” Hall added.

Singh claims to have bought the cigarettes through the supplier Go Go Beers who had sent him some advertising.

However, the court also heard that officers met with Singh’s external accountant and found he was not aware of the invoices issued by Go Go Beers, the supplier of the fake cigarettes.

It was also discovered that the VAT number used by Go Go Beers actually belonged to a completely unrelated business, which had ceased trading in 2014. Singh pleaded guilty to fraudulently evading duty on goods. He was fined £640 and was told to pay £85 costs and a £64 surcharge.