Burnley shopkeeper guilty of hiding illegal tobacco

The tobacco haul seized at a Burnley shop
The tobacco haul seized at a Burnley shop

A Burnley shopkeeper has been convicted for twice trying to hide illegal tobacco products in his Ragland Road shop.

Asif Javed tried to convince Reedley Magistrates that he had sold his stake in the A-Z Off-licence two months before an inspection by Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service in February resulted in the seizure of 86 packets of black market cigarettes and tobacco.

The packs were found in a secret compartment hidden behind kitchen units in a store room at the rear of the shop.

In April Javed was interviewed when he denied any knowledge of the stash, and produced a lease to show that he had sold the business two months earlier. But when officers went straight back to his shop they found another haul of 100 packs concealed under a panel behind a gas cooker. The court was told how officers had been unable to verify the people named in the lease and that Javed’s story about a new owner didn’t stack up.

Magistrates heard during the case on Thursday (December 5th) that some of the products were duty-free packs while others included brands such as “Jin Ling” and “Raquel”, which are specifically manufactured for sale on the black market. The court was told that none of the packs carried proper health warnings and that black-market brands pose an additional health risk as there no controls over what goes into making them.

For the prosecution, Nick McNamara of Lancashire County Council Trading Standards added that honest shopkeepers find it impossible to compete with illicit tobacco, and that pocket-money prices increase the risk of children taking up the habit. Mr McNamara reminded the court that every pack of bootleg cigarettes and tobacco sold costs the taxman over £5.80 and £11.80 in lost duty and VAT.

Rejecting Javed’s evidence as unconvincing, magistrates were given details of previous convictions for dealing in fake whisky and vodka in 2006 and 2007. He was fined £1,000, including £200 for failing to display a tobacco notice in his store. He was also ordered to pay court costs totalling £1,331.

County Councillor Janice Hanson, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for public protection, said: “This case sends a message to anyone thinking of trading in illegal tobacco that you can try to hide it, but our officers will find it.

“We’re committed to protecting our residents from cheap illegal tobacco and other illicit products.”