Haul of illicit cigarettes and tobacco bought in undercover sting in Great Yarmouth
PUBLISHED: 09:22 24 April 2015 | UPDATED: 13:36 28 April 2015
The tide of illicit cigarettes and tobacco that is flooding Great Yarmouth's streets was uncovered in a sting operation.
In just a matter of hours a team of undercover buyers were able to get their hands on a haul of counterfeit packets and pouches after targeting shops and pubs in Yarmouth and Gorleston.
In one pub they were told to use code words - “a bunch of bananas” - at the bar in order to secure a sale and other deals were done face to face after the team got in touch with online sellers.
The team, headed up by former Met police chief Will O’Reilly, were able to buy illicit cigarettes and tobacco at 15 different sites across the borough - targeting areas including St Peter’s Road, King Street and the Market Place.
Many sellers happily handed the goods over across shop counters or did the deal in broad daylight in the street or in a car park.
Mr O’Reilly said the buys were carried out to raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit cigarettes, which can contain poisons such as arsenic lead. Previous tests have also revealed packs containing rat droppings and even human faceas.
He said the amount of online sellers in Yarmouth was particularly high.
“We have noticed, particularly in Great Yarmouth, a massive amount of smugglers using the internet to distribute. Just on Facebook alone we found 27 [sellers], let alone other websites. It’s a problem here clearly,” he added.
“Fifteen venues sold to us, for a small area that’s a reasonable figure.”
And for the 15 that were happy to sell to the team, he said there was probably 150 more that would also do a deal if they were known customers.
The sting, carried out on Wednesday and Thursday, comes after police and trading standards officers raided homes in Yarmouth and Lowestoft and seized more than 50,000 illicit cigarette and tobacco products.
Four people were also arrested in the raids carried out last April.
Illicit cigarettes and tobacco fall into three categories; counterfeits that are made to look like a trusted brand, diverted products, which are legitimate packs but have been smuggled into the UK without paying tax, and ‘illicit whites’ sold on by factories without any control.
The haul bought by Mr O’Reilly’s team in Yarmouth contained packs and pouches that fell into all three categories, including many brands that can only be bought in Europe.
Mr O’Reilly said the illicit white products were the “most worrying” and he has seen a substantial growth in these products being brought into the country.
He said they were often bought in bulk, with container loads brought over to be sold.
“They come through the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich so one of the first distribution points could be Great Yarmouth,” he added.
Mr O’Reilly is a consultant with cigarette giant Philip Morris International and said the work was carried out on behalf of the tobacco firm to raise awareness of the consequences of illicit goods.
“There’s a significant loss to the treasury in tax, that shortfall has got to be made up somewhere else,” he added.
“Then you’ve got the fact the people who sell it don’t care who they sell to. My team has joined queues of school kids in uniform buying illicit tobacco. And you have got the additional health risks, God knows what’s in these things.
“We’re raising public awareness and encouraging people to report intelligence.”
All the information gathered in the buying sting will now be passed to trading standards.