Specialist officers from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) assisted in a dedicated operation aimed at tackling the sale of illegal cigarettes and tobacco.
The operation was undertaken with the support of a number of partner agencies, including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Trading Standards and Immigration Enforcement.
On Friday, November 29 raids took place at four shops in Bedford, in Midland Road, Greyfriars and Thurlow Street.
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Items seized during the visits included three vehicles linked to an organised crime group and approximately 50,000 cigarettes, linked to in excess of £20,000 worth of unpaid duty tax and VAT.
Alan Penrith, Regional Coordinator of the Government Agency Intelligence Network, said: “This operation was the result of months of hard work and intelligence sharing between SEROCU, Hampshire Constabulary, Bedfordshire Police and our partners in order to tackle the source of funds for organised crime groups.
"The sale of illicit tobacco and counterfeit cigarettes is illegal. It denies income to legitimate businesses and should not be tolerated in our communities.
“I would urge anyone who thinks they may have information on the sale of illegal or counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco, regardless of the location, to contact police by calling 101.”
PC Rob Sparkes, from Bedfordshire Police’s licensing team, said: “These sorts of operations target those we suspect of being involved in serious and organised crime, which we are determined to stamp out.
“It is fantastic to see all these different agencies coming together to tackle this threat and rid it from our communities.”
Cllr Colleen Atkins, portfolio holder for Community Safety and Regulatory Services, said: “We are pleased to have worked in partnership with the Police and government departments to ensure that thousands of illegal cigarettes have been taken off our streets.
“Officers from Bedford Borough Council’s Trading Standards Team liaised directly with South East Regional Organised Crime Unit and obtained warrants to access vehicles in Bedford, which were found to contain hidden illicit tobacco and cigarettes.
“Illicit cigarettes and tobacco are not just illegal, they can be very dangerous to consumers and they have been known to contain heavy metals, mould or even human faeces.”