A MAN has been fined after a stash of counterfeit tobacco and cigarettes was discovered under the floorboards of a shop by trading standards officers.

Magistrates at Newton Aycliffe heard that more than 5,000 cigarettes and almost 1.5kg of rolling tobacco were found at Vine Stores, in Middle Street, during a routine inspection in August last year.

The owner of the business, Balraj Singh Takhar, had told an officer from Durham County Council that there was no illicit alcohol or tobacco on the premises.

However, while checking a store room, the officer noticed Takhar behaving suspiciously near a box of bottled water that had been placed on top of a mat.

The officer lifted the mat and found a small door cut into the wooden floorboards. Beneath the door was a concealed compartment where there was a number of carrier bags containing cigarettes and tobacco products.

Asked if there were any other such products on the premises, Takhar pointed to a carrier bag behind the counter, which contained further cigarettes and tobacco products.

The cigarettes were found to be counterfeit. Officers also noted that there was no premises licence summary on display. When asked for a licence, Takhar presented a letter stating that there was no Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) licence in place for the premises and that no alcohol could be sold until one was in place.

In mitigation, Takhar’s solicitor told magistrates that his client had used an agent to apply for a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) licence and thought he had the appropriate paperwork to sell alcohol.

He now accepted that a licence had not been in place and as soon as he was made aware, he applied and one was granted.

The court also heard that Takhar no longer runs the business, which is instead operated by his wife.

Takhar, 48, of Keating Close, Blackhall, pleaded guilty to four charges relating to possession of counterfeit goods and selling alcohol without a licence and was ordered to pay £2,155.88 in fines and costs.

Owen Cleugh, Durham County Council’s consumer protection manager, said: “Our officers will continue to investigate anyone we believe to be selling counterfeit goods and pursue legal action against them.

“Anyone found guilty of breaking the law is warned that they face a fine or even possible imprisonment.”