An operation to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal tobacco and alcohol in Southampton has uncovered more than 8,000 cigarettes, 5.7 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco and 500 litres of alcohol.
Over 100 officers were deployed in the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) led operation, with support from Hampshire Police, Southampton City Council Trading Standards, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force officers. Two specialist Border Force tobacco dogs were also deployed. Investigators visited 19 retail premises across the city on Wednesday 24 September.
The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to tobacco and alcohol products being seized from 12 premises. They included:
- 8,155 cigarettes;
- 5.7 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco;
- 0.45 kilos of shisha tobacco;
- 202 litres of wine;
- 121 litres of beer;
- 178 litres of spirits.
It is estimated around £8,500 of duty and VAT may have been evaded.
In one shop officers found a baggy overcoat with individual packets of cigarettes and tobacco hidden inside the lining, sleeves and pockets. At another store tobacco was concealed under papers in a newspaper stand, and tobacco goods were also found concealed within a display stand at the same outlet.
HMRC officers will also investigate associated tax offences. Police and Trading Standards will be following-up four licensing enquiries. Immigration Enforcement officers carried out checks to ensure that staff were legally present in the UK and had the right to work.
John Cooper, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said:
“The sale of illegal tobacco and alcohol will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2 billion a year, and the sale of illicit alcohol which costs the UK around £1 billion per year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.
“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco or alcohol to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”
PC Andy Sparshott, of Hampshire Constabulary, said:
"Hampshire Constabulary provided officers from local community policing teams in support of the HMRC operation in order to reassure the public that may have been concerned by the increased activity in their community.”
Clive Robinson, Southampton City Council’s Team Leader for Trading Standards, said:
“Working with partners to protect both consumers and legitimate businesses is good news for Southampton’s residents and taxpayers. Our Trading Standards Officers are making further enquiries and we will be examining what additional actions, including licence reviews where appropriate, can be taken.”
Notes for editors
1. Photographs of goods seized are available on HMRC’s Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk and from the “press and media” pages at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs.
2. Searches took place across Southampton, including premises in the Shirley and St Mary’s districts.
3. Border Force tobacco dogs and their handlers helped officers uncover cigarettes hidden in some of the shops.
4. Since 2000, the illicit market in cigarettes has more than halved. In the last two years, almost 3.3 billion cigarettes and over 800 tonnes of illicit hand-rolling tobacco have been seized and 593 criminals involved have been prosecuted.
5. Through its ‘Tackling Alcohol Fraud’ strategy, launched in the tax year 2010 to 2011, HMRC has almost tripled the amount of revenue protected through its enforcement work to over £680 million in the tax year 2013 to 2014. In the last two years HMRC and Border Force have seized more than 21.4 million litres of alcohol, with a revenue value of over £45 million.
5. HMRC can also levy civil penalties on anyone handling, using or supplying non-duty paid tobacco or alcohol products. Penalties introduced in April 2010 range from 10 to 100% of the possible lost revenue.
6. HMRC’s taskforce publicity works alongside existing compliance activity, taskforces, data collection and enforcement to raise awareness among those breaking the rules that HMRC is closing in on undeclared income. More information can be found at www.gov.uk/sortmytax.
7. Taskforces bring together various HMRC compliance and enforcement teams for intensive bursts of activity targeted at specific sectors and locations where there is evidence of high risk of tax evasion and fraud. HMRC has launched 70 taskforces since 2011. A further 30 are planned for the tax year 2014 to 2015.
8. Taskforces have been made possible by the Government’s £917 million spending review investment to tackle tax evasion, avoidance and fraud from the tax year 2011 to 2012, which aims to raise an additional £7 billion each year by the tax 2014 to 2015.
9. Anyone with information regarding tobacco fraud is encouraged to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or via the website http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/reportingfraud/online.htm
10. Follow HMRC’s Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice
Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.
HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.