A man and woman who stored hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes have pleaded guilty to offences under the Trade Marks Act following a prosecution by North East Lincolnshire Trading Standards.
Trading Standards Officers, supported by Humberside Police, executed a search warrant at a property in Exmoor Close, Healing, on 21 November 2021, following reports that illegal tobacco was being stored there.
They found 386,760 illegal cigarettes and 290 pouches of illegal tobacco worth in excess of £227,000 – the largest-ever haul of its kind in the borough.
At a hearing in October 2022, Angela Ammari (51) of Exmoor Close, Healing, pleaded guilty to 11 offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994 relating to 292,000 cigarettes and 50 pouches of counterfeit tobacco.
At Grimsby Crown Court on 27 June 2023, Nabaz Rasul Mohammed (29), a shopkeeper of Freeman Street, Grimsby, entered guilty pleas to 12 offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994, and a further four offences relating to the packaging of all the products seized.
In sentencing at Kingston Upon Hull Crown Court on 27 July, Judge Thackray KC told both defendants that the offences committed were serious matters.
He added that both defendants passed the threshold for custodial sentences but taking into account their previous good character and guilty pleas, he sentenced Mohammed to 18 months in custody, suspended for two years, and 20 days of Rehabilitation Activity. Ammari was sentenced to four months in custody, suspended for 12 months, and must also attend 20 days of Rehabilitation Activity.
Dates were set for a Proceeds of Crime Application to be made. It is anticipated that cost applications will be addressed on conclusion of those proceedings.
During the raid by Trading Standards and Humberside Police, Ammari immediately told officers where the items were concealed, taking them to a first-floor bedroom where 12 kilos of Turner hand-rolling tobacco and 36,000 cigarettes were found.
She then indicated that there were further tobacco products within the loft space, where a search revealed 47 boxes and large bags containing illegal cigarettes. A further 340,760 cigarettes and 2.5 kilos of tobacco were removed from the loft.
Of the total seized, 292,000 cigarettes, and 50 pouches of tobacco were found to be counterfeit, including brands such as Regal, Richmond, Lambert & Butler, Benson & Hedges, Sovereign, Winston, Marlboro, and Amber Leaf and Golden Virginia tobacco. Had they been genuine, the legitimate value of these goods would have been in excess of £162,372.
When interviewed, Ammari told officers she had been befriended by Mohammed and over time had looked after him, fed him, and done his washing for him. He had at some point in 2021 asked if he could store some stock in her loft as he had no space in his shop.
Mohammed claimed that the boxes were the property of a Romanian acquaintance who had asked him to take care of some household goods and did admit to knowing some of the boxes contained tobacco and cigarettes. He also admitted that he had delivered them to a variety of locations but denied selling them.
Leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, Councillor Philip Jackson, said: “This was the largest illicit cigarettes haul our Trading Standards officers had ever seized and I’d like to thank them for continuing to tackle the issue of illegal cigarettes, tobacco and vapes.
“This is a prominent problem not only here in North East Lincolnshire, but across the country. I am pleased the defendants have been brought before the court and that we have taken these illegal goods off our streets. A special thanks goes to the Trading Standards team, the council’s legal team, and Barrister Michael Forrest of Wilberforce Chambers, without whom this result would not have been possible.
“Selling illicit and counterfeit goods can damage local businesses and undermine the local economy. Providing cigarettes at pocket money prices encourages people to continue to smoke and makes it easier for young people to access them.
“These types of products do not meet safety standards and are putting lives at risk because they do not self-extinguish if left unattended, increasing the risk of house fires. Not only has no duty been paid on them but they’ve not been tested to ensure they’re safe. It must also be reiterated, however, that any cigarettes or tobacco, legitimate or not, are seriously harmful to your health.”