Hero dogs have been praised for working with trading standards departments in Darlington to uncover illegal vapes and tobacco hidden in unlikely places - including underground. 

Specialist search dogs Maggie and Bran, from BWY Canine, sniffed out illegal goods at several premises in Darlington, some of which were discovered in a working drain.

They joined forces with Durham Constabulary, trading standards, and the council’s civic enforcement officers for the latest day of action last week, targeting businesses across Darlington believed to be selling illegal vapes, cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco.

Shaun Trevor, DBC's trading standards and animal health manager, said: “Clearly hygiene is not a top priority for these traders who flout the law selling illegal vapes and cigarettes without a care for the age of the purchaser.

(Image: Darlington Borough Council)

“A person purchasing these goods at cheap prices would not suspect that they were being stored in such unhygienic conditions.”

"As part of an intelligence gathering exercise on 25 June this year, a test purchaser attempted to buy illegal cigarettes or vapes from 12 stores in the town.

"One sold a legal product and another referred the buyer to another store, while the remaining ten all sold the test purchaser illegal goods.

"This information was used to target businesses for a closer inspection, with the help of the specialist tobacco dogs."

As a result of this latest day of action, suspected counterfeit or illicit cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco and illegal over-strength vapes were seized from Parkgate Mini Market, Diyana on Parkgate, Yarm Road Mini Market, and Vape Suite, Northgate, all in Darlington.

They were found to be using highly sophisticated concealments in which to store the goods, which would most likely have remained undetected if not for the diligent work of the search dogs.

A total of 294 packs of cigarettes, 52 packs of tobacco and 420 illegal vapes were seized. Many of the vapes were 9,000 or 10,000 puffs, the legal maximum is around 600 puffs, which is equivalent to around two packs of cigarettes.

Amanda Riley, cabinet member for stronger communities said: “Our zero tolerance approach is paying dividends, and we will continue to work with Durham Police and other partners to target those who sell these illegal products in Darlington.

“I would encourage residents to report any concerns about suspected illegal products to our trading standards team who take all complaints seriously and will investigate and take action where appropriate.”

Inspector Jim O’Connor, from Darlington Neighbourhood Police Team, added: “Illicit and dangerous tobacco and vapes can not only cause serious harm to people’s health, but the proceeds are often invested into organised crime and can help fund more serious and violent offences.

“Supplying these products to underage children can also open them up to potential exploitation and criminality – if you are doing this, then you can expect a visit from us.

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“We know that our communities will not tolerate the antisocial behaviour and criminality that these activities bring. If you have any information regarding potential criminality in your community then please report it to us - we will always act on intelligence submitted to us, as these closure orders have shown.”

The visits were undertaken as part of Operation Cece, a National Trading Standards initiative in partnership with HMRC to tackle illegal tobacco.

Anyone with any information that can assist trading standards in Darlington can email tradingstandards@darlington.gov.uk.