More than 78,000 cigarettes and 19kg of tobacco have been seized following a multi-agency operation targeting illegal sellers across Darlington.

Trading Standards officers from Darlington Borough Council, joined forces with Durham Police, Immigration Enforcement Officers, the council’s Civic Enforcement Officers and Licensing Officers to carry out a series of coordinated visits targeting illegal sellers.

Eight stores were visited simultaneously across Darlington, under entry warrants, on Saturday (21 September) by teams accompanied by specialist dog teams from BWY Canine Ltd, including sniffer dogs Scamp and YoYo.

Large quantities of illegal cigarettes, hand rolling tobacco and shisha were seized after being found to be either on open display under counters, in stock rooms or in some cases hidden using some quite sophisticated methods of concealment.

The haul included 78,000 cigarettes (3,912 packs) and 19.1kg of tobacco (382 packs), which equates to a loss in excess of £55,000 to the legitimate economy.

Investigations are now ongoing which are likely to lead to the traders involved facing prosecution.

Shaun Trevor, Darlington Borough Council’s Fair Trading and Financial Investigations Officer, who led the operation, said:

“Without the help of tobacco dogs Scamp and YoYo we would have struggled to find some of the hidden tobacco. Concealments included secret compartments, remote controlled shutters, false walls and even holdalls full of cigarettes hidden beneath manhole covers in drains!

“Trading Standards would have been unable to undertake an operation of this scale without the assistance of other agencies, in particular Durham Police, Immigration Enforcement and our colleagues within the Community Safety Team. It was a real team effort that made the day as successful as it was.

“No arrests were made, but the businesses and individuals involved are subject to ongoing, criminal investigation. The stock has been seized from offenders who could now be prosecuted and face unlimited fines an up to 10 years in prison.”

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for community safety, said:

“This operation was carried out and executed following vital intelligence given to trading standards and other authorities from concerned residents and people in the community. I hope that this will continue to highlight and reassure people that intelligence passed on to us and others will be acted upon.

“We will continue to work closely with partner agencies to tackle organised criminal activity in Darlington.”

If you have any information which can assist Trading Standards please email tradingstandards@darlington.gov.uk or report it using out online reporting form at https://www.darlington.gov.uk/your-council/trading-standards/illegal-tobacco/

For more information about the work of Trading Standards, part of Darlington Borough Council’s Community Safety Team, visit: www.darlington.gov.uk/communitysafety