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Lincolnshire Police and Trading Standards team up to crack down on Grantham shops selling illegal goods

Shops caught selling illegal and illicit goods in Grantham have been forced to shut for three months as part of a crackdown on criminal gangs.

Police and Trading Standards have teamed up to tackle traders selling illicit vapes and cigarettes — and say the workers in such establishments have been ‘trafficked and dragged into criminality’ as part of a wide-scale criminal operation.

Europe Foods and Biedronka, both in Wharf Road, and both Jaz Mini Market and Local Stores in Westgate were found to be selling counterfeit or banned goods follow raids conducted by the local Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) and Trading Standards in March and May.

Posters plastered across the front of the shops explain why they have been forced to close. Photo: Lincs Police
Posters plastered across the front of the shops explain why they have been forced to close. Photo: Lincs Police

They have all been shut down for three months — the maximum allowed under the legislation — with Europe’s closure being enforced on Friday May 10, and the others on Wednesday May 15.

Signs have been placed on the outside of the buildings to offer an explanation to the public about the closures, and demonstrate the action which will be taken when shops don’t operate within the law.

The orders mean that the businesses cannot trade during this time at those locations.

They also mean that no one should be in the premises except the landlord, solely for maintenance purposes, and emergency services if required. Anyone else is committing an offence and could be arrested. If found guilty of an offence, they could be arrested and are liable to either imprisonment or a fine, and the order could also be extended.

Sergeant Lee Mayfield said: "We had intelligence that these stores were not operating in the scope of the law, and when we carried out enforcement in March we found illegal vapes at Biedronka and Europe Foods which were hidden in the storage room behind false panels constructed into the shelving units.

"Some of these were sophisticated and used magnetic mechanical components. We had also found a large quantity of illegal vapes and cigarettes at Jaz Mini Market, which also had hiding places for the goods. At Local Stores, we found counterfeit cigarettes. Some of the disposable vapes seized were offering 9,000 to 15,000 puffs per vape. As a rule, disposable vapes should have around 600 puffs in them, so they comply with the legal limits on size. We knew we needed to tackle this for our community, because we know that there can be associated crime and community impact.

"Each case is different, but the concerns we have are around human trafficking, where the people working in those shops have been trafficked and dragged into criminality by those focused on profit making; money laundering and tax offenses; hindering prosperity of legitimate local business; and the significant health and safety implications linked to these illegal tobacco and vape products. These closure orders remove their operating base, and if we find offending continues, they can be extended by a further three months.

"These extensions give us time to work on problem solving approaches with our partners internally and externally, i.e., Trading Standards, Immigration, the Local Authority, Police Licencing Teams as well as Local Policing Teams to reduce this antisocial behaviour and associated crime. This is a larger, more complex criminal issue that we are tackling head on.”

The raids follow similar activity in other towns across Lincolnshire.

In the UK, there are legal regulations on labelling, and illegal and illicit goods could lack important self-extinguishing safety features, have higher nicotine concentration levels, contain banned ingredients or have oversized tanks for nicotine.

The case was handed over to Lincolnshire Trading Standards to investigate, with its focus on illegal trading in the county.

Andy Wright, principal Lincolnshire Trading Standards officer, said: "There’s a definite link between the sale of illegal cigarettes and other crime and anti-social behaviour, so together with Lincolnshire Police, we’re working hard to disrupt the illegal tobacco market in the county.

"Closure orders allow us to immediately stop the supply of illicit products from the premises, but that isn’t the end of the story. In most cases, closure orders are the precursor to further legal cases against those selling these products, and we won’t hesitate to keep closing shops where illegal activity continues.

"The closure period lasts for a maximum of three months, and in appropriate circumstances we will apply for extensions for a further three months. That time is also being spent contacting landlords of the premises so that problem tenants are removed and there is no repetition of the criminal activity. We recognise the concerns of the public that closure orders can be a short term fix, but we use all the opportunities open to us to make sure illegal trading does not continue once the orders expire."

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