Sniffer dogs find £20,000 illegal tobacco stash in Plymouth
SNIFFER dogs found nearly £20,000 of illegal tobacco during a series of raids.
Trading Standards officers were helped by the specially trained detector dogs to locate the haul during an operation at different addresses aross the city.
Plymouth City Council's Trading Standards team led the two-day operation which saw dogs from Wagtail Ltd UK search around 15 different locations, including shops, wholesale units and storage facilities.
Richard Green, senior trading standards officer, said investigators had identified a number of premises and at an undisclosed Estover address the dogs uncovered 15 bin bags full of rolling tobacco in around 3,000 pouches on which duty had not been paid. The stash has an estimated value of £19,500.
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Due to the size of the haul, their investigation has now been handed to HM Revenue and Customs.
The handlers and dogs from Wagtail Ltd UK are used by a number of councils and trading standards department across the UK as well as the UK Border Agency. Specialist dog handler Rhiannon Atkin said the dogs were trained to sniff out a range of different items, including cash, explosives and drugs.
The dogs are the latest weapon in the fight to cut down on contraband tobacco in the city. It is estimated people in Plymouth spend up to £25,000 every day on illegal tobacco, creating a cheap source for children and adults who would not otherwise be able to afford to smoke.
Councillor Brian Vincent, cabinet member for the environment, said: "Tobacco is taxed deliberately as a way of discouraging people from ever starting to smoke and to encourage smokers to quit. Tackling smoking is one of the most effective ways of ensuring people in our city can lead as healthy a life as possible."
Senior trading standards officer Mr Green added: "There are some considerably sophisticated operations behind these channels and we know that organised crime groups are involved in the distribution illegal tobacco.
"Trading Standards are looking at this from a health agenda really. Tobacco is the single biggest cause of preventable death and cheap tobacco is preventing people from quitting.
"We're very, very happy about such a large seizure. In addition to the 15 bin bags, we also seized 31 pouches of counterfeit tobacco."
He said tobacco smugglers could face fines or even jail, depending on the amount seized.
Anyone who has any information about illegal tobacco can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Wagtail Ltd UK was set up in 2003 by Collin Singer, a former Royal Air Force Police Provost Marshal's Dog Inspector. It also includes body detection dogs as well as conservation dogs which help detect protected species such as Pine Martens, Great Crested Newts and Natter Jack Toads.