HUNDREDS of thousands of cigarettes were seized from 15 shops in Bournemouth, Poole and Shaftesbury during a three-day government crackdown this month.

Officials visited almost 100 stores and self-storage units around the county as part of the initiative, which aims to target the sale of illicit tobacco and alcohol. Four sniffer dogs were used to help officers uncover hidden cigarettes.

Some 63 officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) carried out the sting between June 18 and 21. They were supported by agencies including Dorset Police, the Immigration Service, Trading Standards and dog handlers Wagtail UK Ltd.

In addition, litres of alcohol were taken from shops and bars, including a vodka bottle in the shape of an assault rifle which was on display in the window of a shop in Bournemouth.

The visits, made as part of HMRC’s ‘tobacco taskforce’, saw products which are suspected to be illegal seized. This included:

  • 205,752 cigarettes, with an estimated £77,157 duty and VAT evaded
  • 103.85 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, with an estimated £31,570 duty and VAT evaded
  • 23.7 litres of alcohol, with an estimated £234.60 duty and VAT evaded

Three vehicles suspected of storing illicit tobacco were also seized.

Tracey Noon, assistant director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated.

“Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.8 billion a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol, which costs the UK around £0.9 billion per year.

“This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.”

Sergeant Gareth Gosling, of Dorset’ Police’s drug and alcohol harm reduction team, said: “We were delighted to support this multi-agency operation throughout Dorset and contribute to the success of the operation.

“We are particularly keen to tackle any people or businesses that are causing harm to our communities through the distribution of illicit alcohol and tobacco. The harm caused by this illegal activity is significant, both to individuals and businesses.”

Councillor Lewis Allison, BCP Council’s portfolio holder for tourism, leisure and communities, said: “We’ve been able to successfully target the storage of illegal tobacco in our area.

“I would like to thank everyone involved, and hope that similar approaches to collaborative working will be adopted in the future.”

As reported, the officers were spotted in a number of areas during their three-day crackdown, including Christchurch Road in Boscombe and Old Christchurch Road in Bournemouth.

A wine shop in Bournemouth’s West Cliff was visited.

The owner said: “It was part of a regular check.

“They’re going around all the small shops in the area. They do it once every couple of years.”

“They didn’t find anything here so they moved on.”

Anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol is asked to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.