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Court verdicts on illegal tobacco operation

An illegal cigarette and tobacco operation has landed a Middlesbrough trio with court fines and suspended prison sentences.

When police and Trading Standards officers raided the Local Mini Market store on Beaumont Road in April 2018, they found 1,700 illicit cigarettes and 1.1kg of hand-rolling tobacco.

A second raid on June 6 uncovered a further 2,500 incorrectly labelled cigarettes and another 1.25kg of counterfeit tobacco.

When Lokman Kamala was pulled over by police on July 2, a search of his car revealed further illegal cigarettes and tobacco.

In total there were 7,960 illegal cigarettes and 4.1kg of rolling tobacco seized. Some were counterfeit, some were smuggled, and some were found to be unsafe.

Appearing before Teesside Magistrates on Tuesday August 20, the 39-year-old, of Temple Court, Middleton St George was found guilty of 12 trademark offences and one product safety offence.

He was given a 12-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours of unpaid work, court costs of £809 and a victim surcharge of £115.

At a previous hearing on Tuesday August 6, Natalie Kirton, 28, of Somerset Road, Middlesbrough, admitted seven trademark offences and two labelling offences, and received an eight-week jail term suspended for nine months.

She also received nine Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) days, with court costs of £809 with a £115 victim surcharge. 

At the same hearing, Samantha Richardson, 30, of Kensington Road, Middlesbrough, admitted 12 trademark offences, three labelling offences and a product safety offence.

She was given an eight-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months, 15 RAR days and was ordered to pay costs of £809 with a victim surcharge of £115.

Judith Hedgley, Middlesbrough Council's Head of Public Protection, said: "The Trading Standards team work hard to combat the sales of illicit cigarettes in Middlesbrough working closely with the police, HMRC and other agencies on this issue.

"This business was clearly flouting the law and the Magistrates' sentencing shows that they are taking the matter seriously.

"The success of operations like this relies to a great extent on information and intelligence provided by the public, and I would urge law-abiding residents to let us know of any suspicious activity."

Cllr Dorothy Davison, Middlesbrough Council's Executive member for Adult Services and Public Health, said: "The sale of illegal cigarettes goes against all national measures to reduce the sale of tobacco and to protect the public from tobacco related ill health.

"Whilst illicit tobacco may be cheap, it comes at a cost by undermining the safety in our communities and making cigarettes available to those who are the most vulnerable such as children."

Anyone with information on the sale of illicit goods such as cigarettes in Middlesbrough is urged to contact the Trading Standards hotline on 01642 728223.