A convenience store in Seaham, County Durham, has been forced to cease trading for two months following complaints of illicit tobacco sales from other retailers and a string of test purchase failures.

Durham County Council requested the closure of Westlea Mini Market after trading standards staff uncovered evidence that counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco were “readily available” in the store.

It is the first time the council has secured a closure order via the courts.

Trading standards staff carried out numerous test purchases at Westlea Mini Market between October and December 2017, and on each occasion illegal tobacco was sold.

“Our officers, assisted by Durham Constabulary, then executed entry warrants at two addresses, which uncovered over £20,000 worth of illicit products, including 77,840 cigarettes and 22.5kg of tobacco,” a spokesman for the council said.

Information was also provided to Peterlee Magistrates’ Court by other local retailers who suggested that their businesses were suffering as a result of the sale of illegal tobacco at Westlea Mini Market.

The designated premises supervisor and licence holder, Catherine Flanagan, appeared at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court to contest the application.

In mitigation, Flanagan stated that she knew what was happening at the shop was wrong, and offered to not sell alcohol or tobacco at the shop for a period of time.

After considering all of the evidence, magistrates decided that criminal activity had taken place on the premises, and so granted Durham County Council’s request to close the shop.

The council’s consumer protection manager Owen Cleugh said: “We are pleased that the magistrates have granted a closure order in this case. Our evidence was compelling and we considered it necessary to apply for the order as the criminal activities were causing harm and nuisance to the local community.

“The sale and supply of illegal tobacco can have damaging effects on our communities. We have sometimes found that it is used to fund organised criminality, and it has serious consequences for legitimate businesses. The price of these products is considerably lower than what would be expected for cigarettes and tobacco which potentially makes it more available and accessible to young people.”