Send us news by text, start your message Star News and your send photos and videos to 80360
Meet the canine crimebusters
6:37pm Monday 23rd July 2012 in News
WE’VE all heard of Cagney and Lacy, Starsky and Hutch and Morse and Lewis... now meet Murphy and Milo, the newest detective duo sniffing out crime on the streets of St Helens.
Canine sleuths Labrador Murphy and Springer Spaniel Milo have signed up with St Helens Council’s Trading Standards to help to uncover counterfeit tobacco.
The specially-trained dogs will be helping helping officers track down fake and imported cigarettes. Their keen sense of smell helps turn up items which wouldn’t be found by normal search techniques.
Earlier this year the Star reported how more than 20,000 illegal cigarettes and about 20kg of rolling tobacco have been seized by police and council watchdogs in St Helens over the past 12 months.
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.
The Star also reported how Leslie Briers, 74, of Bruce Street, St Helens, was placed under a curfew for selling illicit cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco.
Investigations across the region found youngsters can easily get hold of cut-price, smuggled or even fake cigarettes under-the-counter from sunbed salons, ice-cream vans and so-called ‘tab’ houses.
Eileen O’Meara, assistant director of public health for NHS St Helens, said: “Illegal tobacco is readily available and cheap in our communities, making it easy for children and young people to take up smoking.
“More than 8,000 teenagers aged 14 to 17 in the north west have admitted to regularly buying fake cigarettes.”
More than 21 per cent of adults smoke in St Helens, slightly above the national average, and there are 359 deaths locally each year which are attributed to cigarette use, which is high compared with the national rate.
The dogs which will be used in the battle against counterfeit tobacco are trained by specialist company Wagtail UK Ltd – which also works for the UK Border Agency.
The dogs can detect many scents, including tobacco and cash, which are often artfully concealed and otherwise impossible to find.
A recent search of several properties involving three Wagtail dogs revealed concealed tobacco products which Trading Standards officers are now investigating.
Councillor Richard McCauley said: “These dogs are a fantastic resource for the Trading Standards team to be able to call on for assistance.
“The fight against those in our communities who supply illicit tobacco, especially to children, is ongoing, but now we’ve got some extra help.
“However I would urge anyone aware of places where illegal tobacco is being supplied to report it to Trading Standards.”
Anyone selling tobacco which is counterfeit or smuggled risks committing a range of criminal offences.
Those selling it from their homes, workplaces or the pub often have no regard for what they sell and who they sell it to – making it much easier for children to get hold of cigarettes and tobacco.
Goods seized recently included counterfeit hand-rolling tobacco that wasn’t just illegal, but seriously misrepresented.
A ‘50 gram’ bag was found to contain just 34 grams.
Previously-seized tobacco was handed over to Wagtail UK after the searches to help train more sniffer dogs.
Anyone with information on places where counterfeit tobacco is being sold can contact the dedicated tobacco reporting line – 01925 442 466 – CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers-uk.org.