Tobacco and thousands in cash seized as dog detectives join raids
PUBLISHED: 14:42 16 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:13 16 January 2019
Dog Detectives are leading the fight against the illegal tobacco trade.
Canine crimebusters who star in their own TV show are specially trained to sniff out tobacco and bank notes.
Today the duo found both, as they joined trading standards officers and police on raids in King’s Lynn.
As officers entered the front door of one town centre shop, a man left via a back entrance and ran down a litter-strewn alley to a car.
But police were waiting and he soon had some explaining to do. Sniffer dog Scampy, a seven-year-old spaniel, was shown around the vehicle by handler Stuart Phillips.
“Go Scamps, go on Scamps, what’s this, what’s this,” he said, as Scamps scampered over its seats.
Some 39 packets of cigarettes and four pouches of hand-rolling tobacco were soon discovered, along with bags stuffed with tobacco cartons and pouches. A health warning on one read: “Smoking can damage yours lunges.”
After Scamps does his job, Mr Phillips returns to his specially adapted van to make a substitution.
Out comes sniffer dog YoYo - whose speciality is finding ill-gotten gains.
Within minutes, he scores, finding a wad of bank notes stuffed under a tray in the car’s central console.
Officers can’t touch, count or move the money until a designated person arrives to oversee its seizure.
“There’s thousands there, maybe £5,000,” one officer says as she leans in to photograph the loot with her mobile.
She adds the money will become subject to the Proceeds of Crime Act, where the man must be able to prove the money is legitimately his.
We leave the man with police as Mr Phillips and the dogs head off through Lynn’s one way system to their next target.
A former police and MoD dog handler, Mr Phillips set up as a freelance sniffer dog operator based in West Wales 10 years ago. Since then, he reckons his four-legged friends have helped relieve the criminal fraternity of £16m.
Illegal tobacco may have been smuggled in without payment of duty, or even maufactured and packaged at an underground factory.
Mr Phillips said it was surprising whose pocket the fiver spent on a packet of under the counter cigs might end up in.
“People think it’s victimless, but when you buy illegal tobacco you’re funding organised crime,” he said.
“It’s buying drugs, it’s buying weapons, it’s even been linked to terrorism.”
Officers and police have already entered another premises as we arrive. Scampy takes us on a search behind its counter and narrow aisles, before we try its grubby loos and storerooms.
The search fans out to outbuildings and a clutch of wheelie bins filled with takeaway containers and household refuse.
“The problem is the shops are changing the way they operate,” said Mr Phillips. “We used to get big seizures from the shops but they changed their tactic and started keeping it in cars.
“I expect what’s been happening here is the shop’s been directing anyone who wants tobacco out the back.”
Out the back could mean a dealer in a nearby car park or even a “runner” turning up at a designated time of day.
One shop-owner stashed contraband in a sports bag, which could be pulled up onto a roof using an electric winch to avoid detection, says Mr Phillips as he scans a flat roof.
From both this shop and the third and final outlet on today’s beat, the dogs and searchers emerge empty-handed. Lead trading standards officer Victoria Conlon said: “We’ve had a successful result. Even when we don’t find anything, it lets the public know we’re out and about and lets businesses know that we act on the information we receive.
“We find we get the most intelligence about King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth, but we do also receive information from other areas.
“Sometimes, it’s down to members of the public being aware that it’s being sold to children. Even if people aren’t bothered about the tax, they do care about it being sold to under-age people.”
Mr Phillips and his charges have so far sniffed out around £50,000 this week.
The dogs star in a TV series called Dog Detectives, on Quest TV, which spent a year following them around.
Mr Phillips has 16, which work for trading standards departments across the country from their kennels in Pembrokeshire.
Anyone with information about illegal tobacco sales should call Citizens Advice on 0345 040506 or police on 101.