Blackburn raids: Specialist dogs sniff out illegal cigarettes

Over £170,000 worth of counterfeit cigarettes were seized by trading standards officers aided by a tobacco detector dog.

Two men from the city have since been prosecuted and given suspended prison terms.

In March 2018, Blackburn Trading Standards officers with the Darwen Council made a routine visit to a storage facility accompanied by a tobacco detector dog.

They searched the George Street unit and discovered over 8,000 packets of counterfeit cigarettes with a retail value of £81,500.

In November 2018, aided by police, officers raided Bank Top’s Smak Polski store in Blackburn, again with a tobacco detector dog.

Evidence of the sale of illicit tobacco was found and a search of the premises revealed a maze of rooms and hallways. A number of shuttered doors required the intervention of locksmiths to gain access.

There, illicit tobacco with a retail value of £96,000 was seized.

The person who rented the George Street unit, Sarhad Rashid, was linked to ongoing procurements at Smak Polski and the two investigations were merged.

Rashid and Smak Polski owner Alan Ahmad have been prosecuted.

Rashid, 39, of Falcon Close, Blackburn, admitted to being in possession of counterfeit cigarettes. He was sentenced to a 12-week suspended prison sentence, along with 80 hours of unpaid work and 15 days of rehabilitation activities. He must pay £570 in fees.

Ahmad, 43, of Manitoba Close, Blackburn, pleaded guilty to nine offenses relating to the supply of illicit tobacco, including fraudulent trading, and two other charges. He was given a suspended prison sentence of 12 months with 150 hours of unpaid work and rehabilitative activity.

A proceeds of crime claim has been filed and forfeiture proceedings will take place on June 24 when costs against Ahmad are decided.

Cllr Jim Smith, Blackburn with the environment boss of the Darwen Council, said: ‘A huge amount of work goes into investigations such as these and it shows how committed we are to tackling the illegal sale of tobacco.

“Laws are in place to protect our residents and businesses that trade within the law.”

“The sale of illegal tobacco makes it easier for children to start smoking.”

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