Closure notices over illegal tobacco

Eight shops in Gravesend believed to be involved in the sale of illegal tobacco products have been served with closure notices ahead of a court hearing where closure orders will be sought.

The action, supported by Kent Police, KCC Trading Standards, and HMRC, is believed to be the largest coordinated closure of such stores by a local authority in the UK.

The notices were served in an operation on Wednesday 27 April at:

  • Monika’s International, Queen Street, Gravesend
  • Baltic Groceries, Queen Street, Gravesend
  • Milton Road Mini Mart, Milton Road, Gravesend
  • Mila Groceries, Milton Road, Gravesend
  • Milano Grocery, Milton Road, Gravesend
  • 5* Eastern European Mini Supermarket, Parrock Street, Gravesend
  • New Road Groceries, New Road, Gravesend
  • Smart Mini Mart, Pelham Road South, Gravesend

The notices, issued under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, require each of the premises to cease trading ahead of a hearing at Sevenoaks magistrates’ court scheduled for Friday 29 April, and all eight have been sealed.

The decision to seek closure orders comes after stores in Gravesend were visited as part of Operation Puggle last year, during which a number of vulnerable people were removed to places of safety and a substantial amount of illegal tobacco products confiscated.

Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, our Cabinet Member for Community and Leisure, praised the work of the agencies involved, all of which had been working together on the planning of the operation over several months.

He said: “The sale of illegal tobacco is far from being the victimless, ‘harmless’ crime some would have us believe.

“The individuals working in these type of shops are often vulnerable young adults who are being exploited by the owners, and the shops themselves attract anti-social behaviour, making the areas around them feel unsafe.

“We have real public health concerns over the unregulated and potentially harmful contents of the products, which are being sold indiscriminately, often to very young people and without regard to their health.

“And of course, the sale of illegal products is damaging to the trade of the many law abiding and legitimate businesses selling tobacco in the town.

“We cannot and will not let this criminality go unchecked and are grateful for the support of our partners in this operation.”

Inspector Jim Beautridge, from Kent Police’s Gravesham Community Safety Unit, said: “Although enquiries remain ongoing, the success of this activity is a clear testament to the close and effective working relationships we have with our partners at Gravesham Borough Council, KCC’s Trading Standards and HMRC.

“By combining our resources, we are able to share information and our expertise to help achieve good results for the communities we serve, and take proportionate action against those we suspect are causing harm.

“The sale of illicit tobacco is not a victimless crime – health risks aside, these products significantly undercut legitimate businesses in the area. That can have a damaging impact on a shopkeeper’s livelihood and organised criminals are the only ones who profit.

“We will always do everything in our power to support our partners and will continue working with the council to help ensure Gravesend remains a safe place.”

Published: Wednesday, 27th April 2022