THE owner of a Darlington store has been sentenced after being caught selling illegal cigarettes and tobacco following an inspection.

Acting on complaints from the public, a trading standards officer from Darlington Borough Council’s Community Safety Team, arranged an inspection of the Corner Shop in High Northgate, Darlington as part of Operation Sirenian in September 2019.

The shop, along with several others in the town, were all visited simultaneously as part of a multi-agency operation.

Behind the counter in the Corner Shop in plain view were open bags of what were clearly illicit and counterfeit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.

At the rear of the store was a locked door to which the store owner at the time, Veronika Kutkova, claimed to have no access and no keys.

The trained tobacco dogs, YoYo and Scamp, are able to detect the presence of tobacco even behind locked doors and they indicated they could detect the presence behind the door.

As Kutkova claimed to have no access and no keys, the door was forced and on the staircase behind was discovered further counterfeit cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.

During interview later Kutkova admitted that she did have a key to this door.

In total 383 packs (7,660 cigarettes) and 2.55 kg hand rolling tobacco (51x 50g packs) were seized from the premises.

Veronika Kutkova, 28, of Howdene Road, Newcastle, pleaded guilty to five offences – two relating to possession for supply of counterfeit goods (Trade Marks Act) and three of supplying non-plain packaged tobacco products (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Regulations) - when she appeared before Peterlee Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

She was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order with 15 days of Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £643.80 plus a victim surcharge of £90.

Shaun Trevor, fair trading and financial investigations officer, who was investigating officer for the case, said: “One of our key priorities is to tackle illegal trading which undermines legitimate businesses in the borough and we will look at all opportunities and options to disrupt this illegal trade.

"As well as supporting organised crime, the supply of illicit tobacco undermines work to reduce the harm caused by smoking and therefore we will continue to work with our partners to tackle this problem.”

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, the council’s cabinet member for stronger communities, added: “People who deal in illegal tobacco, selling them at pocket money prices, are more likely to encourage children and young adults to smoke. "

Our trading standards team are working hard with partners to keep these illegal products off our streets and will continue to crack down on those businesses and individuals that deal in them.”

The operation was led by trading standards and assisted by BWY Canine who provided a team of tobacco dogs, Durham Police, Immigration Enforcement and the Council’s Community Safety Teams’ civic enforcement and licensing officers.

If you have any information which can assist Trading Standards then please email or report it using the online reporting form (you can remain anonymous)