More than 30,000 illegal cigarettes sold at low prices have been seized in a special operation which has seen two shops be closed down.

A hearing at Teesside Magistrates Court this week (March 27) heard that Zirak Mini Market and Guarantee Barber in Stockton town centre will now be closed for three months each.

The court heard how there were "numerous complaints" about the Zirak Mini Market selling illicit tobacco and cigarettes for as low as £5 at the shop - including to children. 

Then, a search by Trading Standards alongside Cleveland Police found a hole in the wall of the Zirak Mini Market store leading directly to the Guarantee Barber store.

From there, 32,000 illegal cigarettes, 10kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco and 22 e-cigarettes over nicotine capacity were found.

Carolyn Nice, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s Director of Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said: “We take the sale of illicit cigarettes very seriously and these closure orders are an excellent result for our Trading Standards team, who have worked tirelessly alongside our partners at Cleveland Police to bring these cases forward.

“It’s worrying for the community that these illegal cigarettes are being sold as it’s difficult to know what is in them, but we take a zero tolerance approach.

“I’d encourage residents to continue to report concerns about sales of illicit products to us so we can take the necessary action.”

Chief Inspector Dan Heron, from Stockton Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “This is another great result that once again demonstrates our commitment to disrupting crime in the town centre.

“While we are already making a positive difference, we will continue working with our partners to ensure the town centre is an even safer place for residents, business owners and shoppers visiting the area.

“I want to take this opportunity to encourage members of the public to keep providing the intelligence and report crime, knowing that we will keep acting on it.”

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This work was carried out as part of Operation Cece, which is run in partnership with the National Trading Standards and HMRC to help tackle the sales of illicit tobacco.

Lord Michael Bichard, Chair, National Trading Standards, said: “The trade in illegal tobacco harms local communities and affects honest businesses operating within the law.

“Having removed 27 million illegal cigarettes, 7,500kg of hand rolling tobacco and almost 175kg of shisha products from sale, the National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with HMRC continues to successfully disrupt this illicit trade.”