THOUSANDS of illegal cigarettes and up to 20 kilograms of tobacco have been taken off the streets following a dawn raid in Sunderland.

Police executed a joint warrant with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) earlier this month in the East End of the city.

Officers and HMRC staff attended an address in the Hartley Street area and seized 7,680 cigarettes, nearly 18kg of tobacco and 6,000 Viagra tablets.

As part of the investigation, police also uncovered a further 3,000 cigarettes and in excess of three kilograms of tobacco linked to other properties.

The illegal products have now been seized, and inquiries are ongoing into the supply of the counterfeit goods.

Inspector Jamie Southwell, of Northumbria Police, said: “This joint-operation with HMRC was the result of weeks of preparation and planning, and we are pleased to have taken these illegal goods off the streets.

“Some people may think the selling of counterfeit goods is a victimless crime, but quite often these goods can be a product of organised crime.

“Groups can supply them into the region with the intention of making money, which enables them to then continue to fund illicit activities.

“We are committed to pursuing criminals and protecting our communities as part of Operation Sentinel, which is our collaborative approach to tackling serious and organised crime, and we will continue to work with all our partners to prevent and disrupt these groups.”

Denis Kerr, assistant director in the fraud investigation service at HMRC, said: “The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies.

"Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.8 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“We encourage anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887."

Anyone with information regarding this incident can contact 101 quoting reference 253 050719 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.