Community service for shopkeeper who hid illegal tobacco in secret panels

The cigarettes found stashed

The cigarettes found stashed

A shopworker was sentenced to do 100 hours unpaid work after secret compartments containing illegal tobacco were discovered at his workplace.

Council officers and police discovered the hidden cigarettes and tobacco – which were sold at half retail price – during a raid at Ryan’s Mini Market on Blackpool’s Central Drive.

A search of the premises was proving fruitless until an electronic key fob was discovered, Blackpool Magistrates Court heard.

Once pressed, the fob opened secret drawers, a cupboard hidden behind a wall and a basement room.

The concealed compartments contained thousands of pounds of counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes and rolling tobacco.

Kurdish asylum seeker Ishaq Mahmoodi, 30, of Charles Street, Wakefield, admitted trademark and consumer protection offences.

He was ordered to do 100 hours unpaid work for the community and made the subject of a 12 month community order.

His partner, who has already admitted the same offences, has been sent to Crown Court for sentence.

After the hearing Coun Gillian Campbell, chairwoman of the resort’s public protection committee, said: “The audacity of this crime is flabbergasting.

“It was an elaborate set up and these men have been brought to justice thanks to the diligence of our officers.”

Lynda Bennett, prosecuting for the local authority, said that council officers and a police dog handler with a Spaniel dog trained to sniff out tobacco went to the shop.

She told the court: “Ishaq was behind the counter at the time and one of the team came across an electronic key fob normally associated with cars.

“But when it was pressed concealed drawers under the counter came open, false partitions opened up and a false tiled wall in the basement opened up.”

She said that more than 700 items of tobacco were found in the concealed areas.

She added: “Packets of 20 cigarettes normally selling at £8 were sold for £3.50 and a packet of rolling tobacco which would normally retails at £17 was on sale at £8.

“They were still making a profit on those prices of about £4,000.”

She said the tobacco was either illegally imported with no proper warnings required under UK law or were counterfeit with no evidence of traceability or content and could have been harmful to health.

When he was interviewed Mahmoodi, who had two previous convictions for similar offences, said he was not responsible for manufacturing the concealed areas and that the premises were now in the hands of different owners.

David Charnley, defending, said: “It is not this man who stood to make substantial gain.

“He was working there in exchange for food and accommodation. He has restrictions on his movements imposed by the Home Office because of his asylum status as a Kurd.

“He has absolutely no money at his disposal at the moment and pleads guilty at the first opportunity.”

Sentencing him, chairman of the Bench Brian Nicholson said: “This was a large haul and showed a high level of sophistication in the manner the items were hidden by false walls.

“The items could have harmed the public and certainly did harm the public purse.”