A SHOP owner could be stripped of his premises licence after inspectors found thousands of illicit cigarettes.

Trading standards officers visited Vine Stores on Middle Street in Blackhall, County Durham, and found counterfeit tobacco products in carrier bags concealed beneath the floorboards

The inspection took place on August 30 last year and shop’s licensee, Balraj Singh Takhar, was there at the time.

A total of 4,540 cigarettes and 1.45kg of hand rolling tobacco was recovered.

An examination of Regal King Size and Mayfair cigarettes found them to be counterfeit.

In a report for Durham County Council, Andrew Cook, the team leader of special investigations, said: “The supply of illegal tobacco undermines the licensing objective to prevent crime and disorder.

“The activity also evades tobacco duty and attracts criminality to neighbourhoods.

“It generates considerable profits which are frequently used to fund other forms of criminality.”

Mr Takhar was interviewed under caution by trading standards officers on October 24.

Concerns have also been raised about whether Mr Takhar has been complying with the terms of his licence regarding the sale of alcohol.

An inspection found no training of staff for the supply of alcohol, which was placed near stocks of confectionary making it attractive to young people, and there was no evidence of a refusal register.

In a report for the council Sean Barry, of the Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Based on the evidence provided in this review it is apparent that the conditions of licence are not being adhered to.”

The licence will be reviewed at the statutory licensing sub-committee meeting at County Hall in Durham on Tuesday.

The sale and possession for sale of cigarettes bearing unauthorised trademarks is a serious offence punishable by up to ten years imprisonment and unlimited fines.

“The tobacco products do not comply with the requirements of legislation relating to health warnings. This is also a criminal offence.

“It is also an offence to keep smuggled goods on licensed premises.”

“Illicit tobacco is linked to crime, regionally and nationally.

Mr Cook said research has found 55 per cent of children aged 14 and 15 who smoke say they buy illegal tobacco from sources such as ‘tab houses’ and local shops.

He said: “Easily and cheaply available tobacco undermines maintaining price as one of the key drives to bring down smoking rates. Sellers operating outside of the regulatory regime naturally attract young people.”

“The supply of illegal tobacco undermine the licensing objective to protect young people from harm.”