A Multi Agency Targeted Enforcement Strategy (MATES) operation took place in Hereford on Wednesday 3 October, following intelligence of suspicious activity at two premises

Officers from Herefordshire Council's Trading Standards and Environmental Health service, West Mercia Police and Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service worked in partnership to carry out planned action at International Foods (Commercial Road, Hereford) and Zabka (Eign Gate, Hereford).

Five people were arrested in connection with the possession and sale of illicit and smuggled tobacco. A quantity of illicit tobacco was seized from two of the premises, which was hidden inside sophisticated concealments operated by electro magnetic and hydraulic systems.

12,500 cigarettes and 9kg of hand rolling tobacco were seized from International Foods on Commercial Road, and 481 packets of illegal cigarettes and 15 pouches of illegal hand rolling tobacco were seized from Zabka Store in Eign Gate. A significant amount of out of date food was also seized from the shelves within the store.

An investigation is ongoing at this time.

Marc Willimont, Herefordshire Council's Head of Regulatory & Development Management Services, said:

"The sale of illegal tobacco severely damages honest local businesses and is more harmful to health than duty paid tobacco as there are no controls over quality and therefore content.

"Herefordshire Council's Trading Standards service will continue to work in partnership with the police, and other partner agencies, to clamp down on this organised crime which is often associated with other criminal activity.

"This successful outcome, supported by multi-agency targeted enforcement, clearly shows the value of working in partnership with other agencies and using sniffer dogs to locate the illegal substances."

Sergeant Duncan Reynolds said:

"It is vital that we take action against the sale of illegal tobacco in Hereford, because although it may seem to be a minor offence, this type of activity can be linked to serious and organised crime which has a devastating effect on our communities.

"Working with partners and having the extra support of our new LPPT, we will continue to try and locate and arrest anyone who is suspected of being involved in serious and organised crime."

A spokesperson for HWFRS said:

"On Wednesday, Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service went into premises in Hereford at the request of our partner agencies to check for compliance with the fire safety orders following the issue of enforcement notices earlier in the year.

"The activity is part of our continuing multi-agency work to ensure that all people and communities are kept safe in Hereford."

The Herefordshire Council website has more information about Trading Standards enforcement.

Published: 8th October 2018