FOUR members of a family have been jailed over the lucrative doorstep sale of illicit cigarettes and tobacco.

Ian Joseph Brace, 53, and his 52-year-old wife Julie ran a ‘tab house’, selling fake, cheap cigarettes to callers at their home, in Seaham.

Durham Crown Court heard the potential turnover of the business was estimated at between £936,000 and £1.2m over three years.

Trading standards officers from Durham County Council, acting on a tip-off, carried out six test purchases, in August and September, 2016, buying several different brands of cigarettes.

It was believed up to ten customers per hour, and about 120 a day, visited the house, between 8am to 8pm.

Some of the purchases were said to have been made from children in school uniform.

Richard Bennett, prosecuting, said all five counterfeit brands failed an ignition test, as they would continue to burn once lit, unlike legally-bought cigarettes, which self-extinguish when not being smoked.

Mr Bennett said this significantly increased the fire risk from unattended cigarettes.

A total of 1,141 packs of cigarettes, with a street value of £4,000, along with 414 packs of 50g rolling tobacco, worth £3,186, were found in a raid on the property.

Cigarettes were stacked on the kitchen work surface, along with a float of money and list of prices,.

A notebook, containing details of ‘products’ and cash figures, was found hidden in a cushion, on the sofa.

Mr Bennett said Ian Brace’s brother, 41-year-old David Brace, who lived across the road in Everton Drive, was also discovered to be involved in the business, storing Turners rolling tobacco at his home until it was needed in the ‘shop’.

Their sister, Julie Wilkinson, 49, from Calvert Terrace, in Murton, was said to have ‘stood in’, running the business when the couple were on holiday.. Records showed she sold more than £1,800 of stock in just a few days.

Ian Brace admitted selling or distributing counterfeit goods, and supplying tobacco without either a combined health or a general health warning.

He was jailed for two years and four months, while Julie Brace, who claimed she did not play a ‘managerial role’, admitted the same three charges and was given a 16-month sentence.

David Brace admitted supplying tobacco without a combined health warning and, although he said his offending was limited to one day only, he was handed a 10-month sentence.

Wilkinson, who claimed her role was limited, admitted selling or distributing counterfeit goods, and received an eight-month sentence.