TEN thousand illegal cigarettes were taken off Burton’s streets following a series of raids on off-licences in the town centre.
Police and trading standards officers swooped on three stores which had been under suspicion of selling counterfeit or non-UK duty paid cigarettes and tobacco.
Officers carried out raids at High Street News, in High Street, the Queens Supermarket, in Borough Road, and Smakus, in Derby Street, at around 10am yesterday.
With the help of a sniffer dog, officers located thousands of illegal cigarettes and nearly three kilogrammes of tobacco, worth more than £4,000, much of which had been hidden away in the hope of avoiding detection.
The blitz was evidence of an increased focus on what experts say is becoming an rising problem in the region, with Burton one of the main hotspots.
The biggest haul was discovered at High Street News where around 7,000 cigarettes had been stashed beyond a panel on the floor behind the counter.
A further 3,000 cigarettes were unearthed at the Queens Supermarket, opposite Burton Town Hall, thanks largely to the detective work of the sniffer dog, which helped officers locate the stash hidden inside the shop’s steel back door, in which a slide-out compartment had been fashioned in order to conceal the cigarettes.
The non-UK duty cigarettes would have been worth more than £3,000 in duty, with police making arrests at both High Street News and the Queens Supermarket.
Traces of illegal cigarettes were found at Smakus, but that search ultimately proved fruitless.
The crackdown was part of Operation Ash, which has so far seen around 70,000 illegal cigarettes seized in the region.
The stores had come onto the radar of trading standards and the police having failed test purchases of banned cigarettes from undercover customers posing as members of the public.
Mike Lawrence, communities chief at Staffordshire County Council, said: “Traders who sell counterfeit or illicit produce are ripping customers off and potentially endangering their health. In addition they’re fleecing the taxpayer and harming legitimate businesses.”