Man arrested as large haul of illegal tobacco found in Banbury raids

Tobacco, believed to be illicit, seized from a shop in Banbury. Photo: HMRC
Tobacco, believed to be illicit, seized from a shop in Banbury. Photo: HMRC

A large haul of illegal tobacco and drugs were found and a man was arrested during a raid on nine shops in Banbury.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers, supported by Thames Valley Police, Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards, and Border Force, visited nine retail premises in the town on Wednesday, March 7.

The tobacco was kept in plastic bags concealed in a bench. Photo: HMRC

The tobacco was kept in plastic bags concealed in a bench. Photo: HMRC

The operation uncovered 4,700 cigarettes, more than eight kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco, two kilos of chewing tobacco, and a bag of tobacco leaves, all believed to be illicit and worth more than £4,000 in evaded tax.

Police officers seized a quantity of what is suspected to be class A and class B drugs, arresting one male on suspicion of drug supply. He has been released under investigation pending further enquiries.

Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards officers seized 31 items of counterfeit clothing and trainers from one of the premises visited.

Sgt Sarah Nash said: "This was a fantastic opportunity to work alongside partner agencies and disrupt criminality in Banbury town centre.

"The health risks associated with the trading of illegal cigarettes are significant and it is a positive result to have such quantities removed from the streets.

“We have also seized a significant amount of illegal drugs from a business premises and enquiries are ongoing in relation to this.

"We urge members of the community to report any illegal activity they are aware of via 101 or through the local neighbourhood teams.”

Two tobacco dogs and their Border Force handler helped HMRC officers uncover tobacco hidden in various parts of the shops, including concealed within seating areas.

The visits, as part of HMRC’s Tobacco Taskforce activity, led to suspected illegal tobacco products being seized from three premises.

This included: 4,700 cigarettes, with an estimated £1,640 in revenue evaded; 8.55 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco, with an estimated £2,351 in revenue evaded; 2.17 kilos of chewing tobacco and tobacco leaves, with an estimated £247 in revenue evaded.

HMRC Fraud Investigation Service assistant director Richard Mayer said: “The sale of illegal tobacco and wider criminality 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 £2.5 billion a year.

"This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it to HMRC online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

Speaking after the operation, head of community protection services at Oxfordshire County Council, Richard Webb added: “One of our priorities is to tackle illegal trading which undermines legitimate businesses in the county.

"The outcome of this operation shows just how widespread illicit tobacco is, and how businesses that sell illicit tobacco may also flout other areas of consumer law.

"As well as supporting organised crime, the supply of illicit tobacco undermines work to reduce the harm caused by smoking and therefore we will continue to work with our partners to tackle this problem.”