Source: Thanet District Council

Thanet District Council has led a multi-agency operation targeting stores involved in the sale of illicit tobacco resulting in closures.

The council was granted a Premises Closure Order for seven premises in Thanet by Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court.

This is the first time so many closures have been granted for commercial premises in one hearing. The stores will close down for the next three months to prevent further criminal activities taking place. The shops, which have been the subject of repeated complaints and intelligence, will be boarded up with copies of the notices fixed to their premises and have their locks changed. Breach of a Closure Order is a criminal offence and can result in penalties of either an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to three months or both.

The closed premises are:

  • Northdown Road Groceries, 104 Northdown Road, Margate, CT9 2RE.
  • Al Madinah Foods, 106 Northdown Road, Margate, CT9 2RE.
  • International Mini Market, 200a Northdown Road, Margate, CT9 2QU
  • Margate Shop Ltd, 253 Northdown Road, Margate, CT9 2PN.
  • King Street Retail, 30 King Street, Ramsgate, CT11 8NT.
  • International Store, 67 High Street, Ramsgate, CT11 9RS.
  • S & D Store, 7a High Street, St Lawrence, Ramsgate, CT11 0QH.

This action is part of an ongoing multi-agency operation by Thanet District Council, Kent County Council Trading Standards, Kent Police, Home Office Immigration Enforcement and HMRC to tackle Illicit tobacco sales, tax evasion and the use of illegal immigrant workers.

The seven premises have been visited a number of times since 2018 and illicit tobacco has been seized along with quantities of cash. In visits this year, some 66,860 cigarettes and 44.76 kg of hand rolling tobacco have been seized.

Cllr Helen Whitehead, Acting Leader of Thanet District Council said: “This should send a strong message to businesses not cooperating with authorities when it comes to making our district a better place to live. Illegal tobacco is not a victimless crime – it harms legitimate businesses and society in general due to tax not being paid, facilitates the supply of tobacco to underage people and supports organised criminal networks.

Chief Inspector Rhiannan Pepper of Kent Police said: “Criminals will use shops as fronts to portray themselves as genuine businesses but very often their focus is on the illicit items they can sell from under the counter, rather than groceries and newspapers. They will even use food packaging to conceal tobacco on their shelves. The cash made from these sales will be used to fund organised criminal groups and can lead to further issues in the community and further afield.

“We will continue to work with our partner agencies to tackle this issue and urge anyone who suspects illegal activity in their area to report it, as your information could help future investigations.”

Kent County Council principal trading standards officer Oliver Jewell added: “This is a great example of effective partnership working.

“We are sending out the message that illegal tobacco will not be tolerated and just because the public have previously found it accessible, they should not consider it an acceptable part of their community.

“Property landlords are urged to carefully consider potential tenants as they stand to lose money from lost rent throughout periods of closure and/or face bills for repairs to damage at their property if they do not make sufficient checks on their potential tenants.”