A shop in Seaham has been forced to close its doors for two months following reports of criminal behaviour at the premises.
Durham County Council requested the closure of Westlea Mini Market, on West Grove, Seaham, after trading standards staff uncovered evidence that counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco were readily available in the shop.
The order marks the first time Durham County Council has secured a closure order via the courts.
Trading standards staff carried out numerous test purchases at Westlea Mini Market between October and December 2017, and on each occasion illegal tobacco was sold.
Council officers, assisted by Durham Constabulary, then executed entry warrants at two addresses, which uncovered over £20,000 worth of illicit products, including 77,840 cigarettes and 22.5kg of tobacco.
The designated premises supervisor and licence holder, Catherine Flanagan, 38, of Meadow Avenue, Hartlepool, appeared at Peterlee Magistrates Court to contest the application.
In mitigation, Mrs Flanagan stated that she knew what was happening at the shop was wrong, and offered to not sell alcohol or tobacco at the shop for a period of time.
Evidence was presented by the council that counterfeit tobacco products were readily being sold from Westlea stores.
Information was also provided by other local retailers who suggested that their businesses were suffering as a result of the sale of illegal tobacco.
After considering all of the evidence, magistrates decided that it was more likely than not that criminal activity had taken place on the premises, and so granted Durham County Council’s request to close the shop.
Owen Cleugh, Durham County Council’s consumer protection manager, said: “We are pleased that the magistrates have granted a closure order in this case.
“Our evidence was compelling and we considered it necessary to apply for the order as the criminal activities were causing harm and nuisance to the local community.
“The sale and supply of illegal tobacco can have damaging effects on our communities.
“We have sometimes found that it is used to fund organised criminality, and it has serious consequences for legitimate businesses.
“The price of these products is considerably lower than what would be expected for cigarettes and tobacco which potentially makes it more available and accessible to young people.
“We would ask that if anyone is aware of illegal tobacco being sold from either a shop or domestic property, then please report it via the ‘Keep It Out’ reporting line at 0300 9990000.”