Family jailed after selling counterfeit cigarettes
Four members of a Seaham family have been sentenced to jail after being found guilty of selling counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco.
Ian Brace, 53, and his wife Julie, 52, ran a 'tab house' from their home in Everton Drive, Seaham, selling fake, cheap cigarettes to customers who came knocking at their door.
The couple made hundreds of thousands of pounds in the process, with the potential turnover of the business estimated at between £936,000 and £1.2 million over the course of three years.
Following a tip-off, our trading standards team conducted six test purchases from the house in August and September 2016, where several brands of cigarettes were bought from both Mr and Mrs Brace at their door.
As part of the investigation, it was identified that there were up to ten customers per hour and around 120 per day visiting the house between the opening hours of 8am to 8pm. Purchases were also made from children in school uniform.
The five brands of counterfeit cigarettes purchased were all found to have failed a 'reduced ignition propensity' test, meaning that they would continue to burn once lit, unlike proper cigarettes, which self-extinguish when not being smoked. This significantly increases the risk of fire from an unattended cigarette.
A raid on the property recovered 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.
Inside the house, cigarettes were stacked on the kitchen work surface along with a float of money and list of prices, and a notebook containing details of cigarettes and money figures was deliberately hidden in a cushion on the sofa.
Ian Brace's brother, David Brace, 41, 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.
Ian Brace's sister, Julie Wilkinson, 49, from Calvert Terrace in Murton, was also found to be running the business when the couple were away on holiday, with records and stock lists showing she sold over £1,800 of stock in just a few days.
Ian Brace pleaded guilty to charges of selling or distributing counterfeit goods, supplying tobacco without a combined health warning and supplying tobacco without a general health warning. He was handed sentences of two years and four months and another of ten months, to run concurrently.
Julie Brace, who in mitigation said she did not play a managerial role in the business, was found guilty of the same charges and given a 16 month sentence and another of ten months to run at the same time.
David Brace pleaded guilty to supplying tobacco without a combined health warning and although he said his offending was only on one day, was handed a 10 month sentence. Julie Wilkinson, who claimed her role in the business was limited, pleaded guilty to selling or distributing counterfeit goods and was given an eight month sentence.
Joanne Waller, our head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: "We are committed to cracking down on illegal tobacco which has serious consequences for our health and, as this case itself identifies, makes it easier for young people to smoke.
"Our officers will continue to investigate anyone selling illegal tobacco from either retail or domestic premises and sellers breaking the law face being brought before the courts and facing fines or imprisonment. In appropriate cases we will also use the Proceeds of Crime Act to target the money made by this offending and take the cash out of crime and hit criminals in the pocket.
"We would ask that anyone who believes they have information on the sale of illegal tobacco to let us know by contacting the confidential reporting line on 0300 999 0000 or via the Keep it Out website."
Anyone wishing to give up smoking can seek free help from Smokefreelife, County Durham, which supports residents to give up the habit and lead a healthier, smokefree life. Call 0191 369 2016 or 0800 772 0565 for more information.