A store in Norton, Stockton has been shut down after a raid by Trading Standards resulted in the seizure of more than 200,000 illicit cigarettes, with some stashed in purpose-built hides.
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council have secured a three-month closure order for The Norton Shop, 274 Norton Road, and Flat 272 Norton Road, at Teesside Magistrates’ Court.
The court heard that Council officers were joined by police and a sniffer dog to execute a search warrant at the shop and flat in November following a string of complaints about illicit tobacco sales, including reports of sales to children.
Officers discovered two packets of counterfeit cigarettes behind the shop counter and dozens more stowed away in a wooden hide behind a ‘TOILET’ sign above a door in the shop’s back room.
This led to a search of the flat above a neighbouring shop and its back yard which uncovered boxes of illicit tobacco piled floor to ceiling in a custom-made roof compartment as well as stashes in wardrobes in the hallway, drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, and boxes in the bedroom.
In total, officers seized 212,020 counterfeit cigarettes and 832 pouches of suspected counterfeit tobacco, along with 439 non-compliant e-cigarettes with a total value of around £150,000. A related criminal investigation is ongoing.
Councillor Steve Nelson, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Access, Communities and Community Safety, said: “We have received complaint after complaint about this shop and worryingly a number of these complaints have been about the regular sale of single or packets of cigarettes – and vapes – to children.
“Those involved in this illicit trade obviously have no conscience – they’re only interested in making money and don’t care about the harm they’re causing to our communities or that such activities encourage children to take up smoking. As this case shows, they’re also resorting to increasingly sophisticated methods to try to evade detection.
“We secured an interim closure notice before Christmas and I’d like to thank our Trading Standards officers for their tenacious work in securing this three-month closure order, which is the maximum the magistrates can impose. I’d also urge local people to report any sales of illicit tobacco to us so we can take the necessary action.”