More than 4,000 packets of illicit cigarettes and 175 pouches of illicit hand rolling tobacco were seized over the weekend as the result of a partnership between Northamptonshire County Council's trading standards service, Northamptonshire Police, the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Operation Henry, which runs from April to September 2014, cracks down on the supply of illicit tobacco across nine regions in England. Each region receives eight days of dog detection provided by Wagtail UK and funded by the Department of Health. Results are then collated by the TSI.
This partnership allows trading standards officers to identify illicit tobacco hot spots by combining intelligence from all partner agencies.
Some illicit products were seized on Friday 11th July during inspection visits across the county, conducted by trading standards and attended by HMRC officials and Northamptonshire Police as part of Operation Henry.
Indie, a black labrador, and Milo, a springer spaniel, helped search for the concealed stashes of tobacco at seven premises.
In addition to the Operation Henry visits, trading standards carried out further visits on Sunday 13th July supported by HMRC, Northamptonshire Police and tobacco dogs from B.W.Y. Canine. On this occasion Phoebe, a sprocker spaniel, and Scamp, a springer spaniel, helped detect concealed stashes of tobacco at a further seven premises.
Leon Livermore, chief executive of TSI, said: "This partnership is one more example of how trading standards works with the private and public sector to protect consumers and support legal business practices. Through this partnership, trading standards has a unique opportunity to share information and develop intelligence with the aim of taking illicit tobacco off the streets."
The seizure included foreign labelled and suspected counterfeit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco which cannot legally be sold in the UK. The visits were conducted following intelligence gathered by Trading Standards indicating where illicit tobacco could be purchased.
"HMRC works closely with other enforcement agencies to crack down on illicit tobacco in the UK," said Richard Las, deputy director of Criminal Investigation for the HMRC. "Seizing illicit product is only one of the tools used; the focus is on using a range of interventions, from penalties to prosecutions, to encourage compliance and maximise deterrent. Partnership working with Trading Standards is vital in order to share intelligence and collaborate on joint exercises such as Operation Henry to target those areas with the highest levels of illicit tobacco activity".
Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage, Northamptonshire County Council cabinet member for Strategic Infrastructure, Economic Growth and Public Protection said: “Those involved in dealing in illegal tobacco may be encouraging people, including children to smoke by providing a cheap source. The detection dogs can find tobacco and cigarettes even if hidden in the most unlikely places. Offenders need to know that they will face consequences if they choose to deal in these illegal products.
"Anyone being offered cheap tobacco or any other types of illicit goods should report it to trading standards, anonymously if preferred, via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 04 05 06”