Customs officers raid Boston stores in illegal alcohol and tobacco sting

Some of the alcohol that was confiscated in the raids.
Some of the alcohol that was confiscated in the raids.

DANGEROUS counterfeit vodka with the potential to blind those who drink it was discovered in Boston during a major operation to crackdown on the illicit tobacco and alcohol trade.

The co-ordinated raids - the first of their kind in the UK - were carried out by officers from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who seized 1,520 cigarettes and 88 litres of alcohol from six stores after carrying out eight simultaneous busts in the town centre.

Gary Seymour, assistant head of Lincolnshire Trading Standards, said: “It’s a growing industry, which we are getting more and more intelligence about, and the real problem is you don’t know what’s in it.

“Some of the illegally-made vodka has been found to contain high levels of methanol, which is used to make anti-freeze and some fuels.

“Drinking it can be incredibly dangerous and could cause dizziness, breathing difficulties and even blindness.”

The day-long clamp-down was part of a joint initiative by HMRC with the police and Trading Standards officers to speed up the process by which offending retailers can have their liqour licences revoked.

If successful, the pilot will be rolled out across the UK.

Stuart Crookshank, assistant director for HMRC, said: “Low-cost tobacco and alcohol products can often seem very attractive to local people, lured into purchasing them at what seem like bargain prices.

“However, the truth is these goods have been smuggled and these sales are unlicensed and unregulated.

“Those involved are not concerned if they are selling to children and underage young people and the illicit trade has a devastating impact on legitimate retailers and the local community.”

The revenue loss to the public purse from the raids earlier this month is estimated at £1,000.

HMRC is working with Lincolnshire County Council to incorporate food safety issues into the tax evasion operation.

Sgt Jock Watt, of Lincolnshire Police, said the force would ensure premises supplying illicit goods will be placed in front of the local authority’s licensing committee with the request that their licence to sell alcohol is revoked.

“The residents of Boston can be assured that we will target those people and premises looking to ‘rip them off’ by supplying them with counterfeit goods,” he said.

No arrests have currently been made. Investigations are ongoing pending criminal prosecutions.

l Householders and businesses are being urged to help in the fight against crime and encouraged to contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000 or email: customs.hotline@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk with information relating to illegally imported goods or tax evasion and fraud.

l What do you think? Email david.seymour@jpress.co.uk