Trading standards and police teams have taken almost £500,000 of illegal cigarettes off the streets of Stoke-on-Trent in the biggest single swoop of its kind in the city.
Fake tobacco courier Dena Rustom was found by officers with 43,000 packets of illegal tobacco in 87 boxes with a retail value of £445,875 after his van was searched at an address in Houghton Street, Hanley.
Rustom, from Derby, pleaded guilty to possession of illegal property at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court on 1 October for the offence, which took place on 11 March 2020. Rustom was sentenced to 12 months in jail, suspended for 18 months, stripped of his driving licence for 12 months, ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work, and was made to pay £350 to Stoke-on-Trent City Council towards the cost of the prosecution
Now city leaders are hailing the prosecution as a major victory in the fight to keep illegal cigarettes off the streets of the city.
Councillor Carl Edwards, cabinet member for housing and the environment, said: “This is the biggest single haul of fake tobacco that has ever been seized in our city. Rustom was bent on supplying his van full of illegal goods to shops across Stoke-on-Trent. Thanks to the hard work of our trading standards and police teams he was thwarted and made to answer for his crime. In being stripped of his driving licence he will not be able to courier any other goods in our city.
“This raid is a major victory in tackling the fake tobacco trade. We will not tolerate criminals who think they can get away with supplying illegal cigarettes. It is a crime that ruins lives. We will use all the powers at our disposal to stamp out this crime.”
PC Lucas Hackey, from Staffordshire Police’s Stoke North Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “We worked with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Trading Standards teams to identify Rustom and seize the cigarettes. The cigarettes were found to be in fake packaging without required UK health warnings. We’re committed to working in partnership to stopping this illegal trade.”
It is the second major successful prosecution for fake tobacco offences in the city in a week. On Monday (4 October) Hanley shop owner Hamed Faris was sentenced to nine months in jail after admitting 11 charges of supplying illegal tobacco over a six-month period in 2019. Trading standards teams found thousands of packets of fake cigarettes and hand-rolled tobacco buried in a crate in the garden of his shop and hidden in a crevice in a stairwell in the store.
Councillor Edwards said: “Our trading standards teams are there to support and protect residents and businesses from criminals such as these. We take that responsibility seriously and will not tolerate those who break the law.”
If any residents or businesses have concerns over the supply or sale of illegal tobacco, they can contact the trading standards team on: firstname.lastname@example.org.