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Illegal tobacco burns a £35,000 hole in pensioner's pocket

Published January 24, 2019 12.05pm


A man in his seventies who was caught with over 100,000 illegal cigarettes has been handed an eight months suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay over £35,000.

Tobacco haul

The illegal cigarettes without the required health warnings

Francis Farrelly, of the Gardens, Chester-le-Street, will now face eight months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, for his involvement in the supply of illegal tobacco. For three months the 72 year-old will also be electronically tagged and monitored with a curfew from 8pm to 8am.

Thanks to an anonymous tip off through operation Keep it Out, our consumer protection and trading standards officers paid a visit to Farrelly on 7 March 2018 to conduct a test purchase, where they were given by the offender one box of 20 Brass cigarettes for £3.50.

106,360 cigarettes seized

On 10 April 2018 a warrant was executed to search Farrelly's home address where a total of 62,800 Brass and 43,560 Pride cigarettes, and 104.3kg of Turner tobacco was seized.

Durham Crown Court heard that none of the Brass or Pride cigarettes seized contained the obligatory health warnings on the packets and the health warnings on the tobacco uncovered were not in English.

Also found in the search was £7,540 in cash. Under interview Farrelly confirmed it was from the sale of the cigarettes, admitting that for four to five years he had been exchanging the illegal tobacco products for cash at his door.

'Dubious origin' 

Whilst the defendant said he was unsure of the law relating to labelling, he did not believe that the tobacco products were legal due to their dubious origin. He said that they would be delivered to his home address in a van once a month, but refused to say who from.

Farrelly said he bought the sleeves of cigarettes for £30 and sold them for £35, charging £3.50 a packet. He also said he bought the tobacco pouches for £7.50 selling them for £8. Based on this information the retail value of the products found on the 10 April works out at £35,301.

In mitigation it was reported that the defendant was in poor health and would not be fit to work if an element of unpaid work was attached to any order. 

Sentencing 

The judge sentencing, His Honour Judge (HHJ) Jonathan Carroll, said that if Farrelly was a younger man, he would have locked him up, but due to his ill health, no previous convictions and inability to work, it would be disproportionate to impose an immediate custodial sentence.

HHJ Carroll also told the defendant that as an ex-smoker he should know the dangers, hence why the warnings are required. Making reference to the defendant's ill health, he said when the defendant requires help he would approach the NHS. Such treatment needs paying for through taxes, and when cigarettes are sold illegally from doorsteps it cuts the taxman out of the loop. In turn this damages those who rely on that money, such as hospitals and schools.

The defendant was given credit for his early guilty pleas and was ordered to pay a £35,301 confiscation order and £1653.25 in costs, in addition to his eight month suspended prison sentence and curfew.

The importance of correct health warnings

Owen Cleugh, our consumer protection manager, said: "Smoking kills and people need to be aware, that is why it's important that the correct health warnings, in English, are listed on cigarette and tobacco packets.

"On top of this, tobacco products such as these harm the interests of legitimate retailers and also affect the public purse. We have evidence that sales of illegal tobacco from domestic property can be part of an organised crime network and it is more likely that children will be able to access cigarettes and tobacco when sold from houses."

Anyone with information on the sale of illegal tobacco should contact the confidential reporting line on 0300 999 0000 or via Keep It Out.

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