Shop to stay closed for two months after counterfeit tobacco worth more than £20,000 seized

Westlea Mini Market
Westlea Mini Market

A Seaham shop is to remain closed for two months after counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco worth more than £20,000 were seized.

Durham County Council trading standards officers carried out raids on the Westlea minimarket and another address in December.

A closure notice at Westlea Mini Market

A closure notice at Westlea Mini Market

They recovered more than 77,000 cigarettes and 22.5kg of hand-rolling tobacco with an estimated value of between £20,635 and £24,509.

Now magistrates have ordered the shop be closed to avoid any repetition of the offence.

Trading standards officers had requested a three-month closure at a hearing at Peterlee Magistrates Court.

Gill Proud, for the council, told the court Catherine Flanagan had been the ‘designated premises supervisor’ at the shop.

There is clear evidence of criminal activity taking place at the premises.

Gill Proud

“There is clear evidence of criminal activity taking place at the premises,” said Mrs Proud.

Six test purchases of counterfeit goods had been carried out and a seventh had failed only because the goods had been removed due to police activity in the area.

The officer who had been refused had been told to go back later: “He returned the next day and was able to purchase 400 cigarettes,” said Mrs Proud.

“Mrs Flanagan was aware the cigarettes in her possession were not legitimate, she had moved them from the premises but was still willing to sell them at a later date.”

It was the council’s view that a closure order was necessary to put a stop to the sale: “It is believed that these premises would continue to engage in criminal activity,” said Mrs Proud.

Mrs Flanagan told the court she had taken over the business from leaseholder Ampikapathy Krishnakumar. The lease had not been changed but she had transferred everything else - the licence and payments for services including gas and water - into her name.

She told the court: “I have packed in my job to work in that shop.

“If that shop closes, I have got a mortgage, I have got a little boy, I have got no income at all.

Asked by the court clerk, “Do you accept there has been the sale of some contraband tobacco items from the shop?” she replied “I do, yes.”

She was willing to undertake not to sell tobacco or alcohol. “I would just like the shop to kept open just to sell groceries if possible, just so I have got some income coming in.”

Magistrates agreed to grant an order for a two-month closure after hearing from solicitor Asam Khan, on behalf of the owners of the shop, Mr and Mrs Johal, who said discussions about Mrs Flanagan talking over the lease had been ongoing.

“What is clear from having spoken to my clients is at no time were they aware that Mrs Flanagan had taken over the running of the business,” he said.

“As far as they were aware concerned, it was still Mr Krishnakumar who was running the business and, until such time as the new lease was signed, that was going to be the situation.

“My client is not happy that their property, their premises, are occupied by Mrs Flanagan. My clients are not prepared to grant Mrs Flanagan a lease.

“There is noting to indicate my clients are involved with any criminality.”

Speaking after the case, council consumer protection manager Owen Clough said: “We are pleased with the magistrates’ decision.

“We were satisfied there was sufficient evidence to apply for an order and it was necessary to do so.”