11:41am Tuesday 28th February 2012
A 74-YEAR-OLD man who funded holidays to Benidorm by selling illicit cigarettes on the black market from his St Helens home has been placed under a curfew.
Pensioner Leslie Briers was prosecuted after police visited his home on Bruce Street in June last year where they found a huge stash of illicit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.
The hoard included fake Regal King Size, smuggled Golden Virginia and a variety of “cheap whites”, which are unbranded cigarettes produced in China and Eastern Europe that have no legitimate place on the UK market.
Officers found that some of the 700 packs contained only “dummy” polystyrene cigarettes and none were labelled with the required health warnings.
Watchdogs say he would sell the blackmarket cigs for £3.50 a pack, roughly half the price of a legal one in shops.
Investigators believe the black market sales may have raked in up to £21,000 a year, funding trips to Spain.
However, former Pilks glass worker Briers denied the operation was on such a grand scale, suggesting he made about £56 a month and that the money he gained for treats, such as buying joints of meat at the weekend.
Appearing at Knowsley Magistrates’ Court, Briers was prosecuted by St Helens Council’s trading standards officers, working in partnership with the Regional Illicit Tobacco Team.
Briers claimed to have been buying the illegal cigarettes from people who had approached him in Church Square, St Helens.
Trading standards say he painted himself as “someone who was serving the public”, by providing cigarettes to customers who could not afford shop prices.
But he was caught out after police received an anonymous tip off.
Magistrates sentenced him to a community order, which requires him to be tagged and placed under curfew from 7pm to 7am for four months.
He was ordered to pay £706 costs to St Helens Council.
Following the conviction, Councillor Alison Bacon said: “This prosecution sends a message to other unscrupulous individuals who put their profit before the health of our residents.
“Members of the community can help us by reporting any information they have which will help officers take action against those involved in this criminal activity.”
Watchdogs suspect sales on the black market is taking place at other homes and in workplaces across St Helens and the north west.
Figures released last summer from Revenue and Customs suggest 17.5 per cent of tobacco in circulation across St Helens is illegal, putting the town at the top of a regional hall of shame.
There are concerns that children become addicted to smoking because they get cheap access to the black market cigarettes.
Investigations, regionally, have found children easily get hold of cut-price, smuggled, or even fake cigarettes under-the-counter from sunbed salons, ice-cream vans and private homes, known as ‘tab’ houses.
Anyone who has information about the supply of illegal tobacco can report it either to the Trading Standards Regional Illicit Tobacco Enforcement Team on 01925 442 466 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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