Inside covert surveillance and how it is used to trap Sheffield's rogue traders

Covert surveillance – it sounds like something a 1940s sleuth might be involved in but it’s actually one of the ways Sheffield Council traps rogue traders.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th February 2020, 4:19 pm

The council used the special power on three occasions in 2018/9 to investigate the sale of counterfeit cigarettes.

Officers won’t disclose details of how the surveillance is carried out, but they have highlighted a number of successful prosecutions.

A Darnall shop owner was prosecuted after trading standards seized more than 27,000 illicit cigarettes.

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Sheffield City Council have used covert surveillance to catch people selling illicit cigarettes in Sheffield. (Stock image)

He pleaded guilty to five offences in October 2018 relating to the sale of counterfeit and incorrectly labelled tobacco products.

The prosecution came after trading standards officers were sold a packet of counterfeit rolling tobacco and a packet of foreign labelled cigarettes.

Later that month, the shop was searched with a tobacco detection dog and more than 9,120 cigarettes and 75 pouches of rolling tobacco were seized. Some products were hidden in a purpose built concealed unit behind shelving.

The owner was sentenced to a 12 month community order to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

In a separate case around the same time, a man from the Manor appeared at Sheffield Magistrates' Court and pleaded guilty to trade mark and other tobacco related offences.

Trading Standards received a tip-off and executed a warrant at his home where they found counterfeit cigarettes and rolling tobacco that did not have the required health warnings.

A van parked by the property was also searched and more than 18,000 cigarettes and 78 packets of rolling tobacco were seized.

The man admitted selling the tobacco in his home to family and friends and was fined.

In November 2019, the council prosecuted two people for illegally selling tobacco products from a city centre pub.

The couple appeared at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and pleaded guilty to trademark and other tobacco related offences.

They were both prosecuted for selling and supplying counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes and tobacco.

Trading Standards officers witnessed the couple making sales and obtained video recording of sales being made from nearby CCTV.

Trading Standards and police stopped and searched the couple outside the pub in March 2019.

They were found with counterfeit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco which did not have the correct packaging or required health warnings. Both were fined.

Why are fake fags so bad?

Council officers say illegal tobacco skirts taxation and makes it harder for smokers to quit as they can be as cheap as £4.50 a pack - 1980s prices.

Ian Ashmore, head of environmental protection at Sheffield Council, said: “Trading standards work hard to protect the public from people operating illegally and to support legitimate businesses.

“Trading laws are there for a reason, to protect people from the potential dangers of unauthorised and unregulated products.

“We ask anyone who suspects or knows illegal sales are happening to report it so that we can put a stop to it.”

Health chiefs are also concerned about illegal tobacco. Each week in Sheffield there are 16 smoking related deaths and five children start smoking every day. Smoking is the single biggest cause of illness and death in the city.

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health, said: “Illicit tobacco is typically smoked by people on low incomes making these inequalities worse.

“We are committed to supporting people out of tobacco addiction and a key part of our Tobacco Control Strategy is tackling the illicit market.

“We take every precaution to ensure our children don’t start smoking and take up this deadly habit that kills one in two users.

“Trading Standards are working really hard to stamp out the availability of cheap and illegal tobacco in Sheffield but we know there is more to do and we will continue working with partners across the city to tackle this issue that has such damning effects on people’s lives.”

To report illegal activity or any suspicions email [email protected] or call 0114 273 6290.