A County Durham shop has been ordered to close after being caught selling illicit cigarettes six times in four months.

Durham County Council has managed to secure a three-month closure order against the tenants of the Crook Mini Market store, at 80 Hope Street in Crook, at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court.

The court heard that officers were sold illicit cigarettes during an initial test purchasing operation at the shop in February.

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They returned later the same month and seized a quantity of illicit cigarettes.

The shop sold illicit cigarettes a further five times during test purchase operations between April and June.

And the sale of illicit cigarettes has continued despite ownership of the business changing hands during that time.

After seizing the items, illicit cigarettes were also seized from a nearby car connected with the shop during raids carried out as part of a separate operation.

The Northern Echo: Crook Mini MarketCrook Mini Market (Image: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL)

Overall, officers have seized a total of 14,800 illicit cigarettes and 10.35kg of tobacco with a total street value of around £5,830.

Similar products, if sold lawfully, would be worth £14,775, according to the council.

Some of the goods seized are suspected to be counterfeit, and many did not contain the legally required health warnings.

A related criminal investigation is ongoing.

Gary Carr, Durham County Council’s strategic regulation manager, has warned other businesses about selling illicit products.

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He said: “Selling illicit tobacco is not a victimless crime but those responsible care little about the harm they’re causing. They’re only interested in making money.

“This kind of activity is often linked to organised crime and brings nuisance and antisocial behaviour into local communities.

"It can also make smoking more accessible to children and damages those honest and law-abiding local businesses that operate legitimately.

"That’s why it’s so important we work with partner agencies to crack down on it.

“Our trading standards officers have been tenacious in their work to secure this three-month closure order, which is the maximum the magistrates can impose.

"I’d also urge local people to report any sales of illicit tobacco to us so we can take the necessary action.”