Organised criminals using shops as a front for illegal activity is driving away trade from parts of Wakefield city centre

Organised criminals using shops as a front for illegal activity is driving away trade from parts of Wakefield city centre, a meeting heard.
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Councillors urged for more to be done to clamp down on gangs who make billions from selling smuggled and counterfeit tobacco.

Trading standards and anti-social behaviour officers told a licensing hearing how illegal traders were affecting genuine city centre business owners.

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Details of illegal activity were revealed at a meeting where councillors revoked a licence at premises where more than £2,000 worth of illegal tobacco products and vapes were found by sniffer dogs.

Trading standards and anti-social behaviour officers told a licensing hearing how illegal traders were affecting genuine city centre business owners.Trading standards and anti-social behaviour officers told a licensing hearing how illegal traders were affecting genuine city centre business owners.
Trading standards and anti-social behaviour officers told a licensing hearing how illegal traders were affecting genuine city centre business owners.

The discovery was made in a joint operation by police and trading standards officers.

Babul Hussain, lead tobacco officer with West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said many shops across the region now rely on the black economy to make profits.

Mr Hussain said there is also evidence that staff working in some of the convenience stores are victims of modern slavery.

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He said: “Illegal tobacco is a massive market. It’s not people bringing this stuff back from holiday. It is about organised crime.

Details of illegal activity were revealed at a meeting where councillors revoked a licence at premises where more than £2,000 worth of illegal tobacco products and vapes were found by sniffer dogs.Details of illegal activity were revealed at a meeting where councillors revoked a licence at premises where more than £2,000 worth of illegal tobacco products and vapes were found by sniffer dogs.
Details of illegal activity were revealed at a meeting where councillors revoked a licence at premises where more than £2,000 worth of illegal tobacco products and vapes were found by sniffer dogs.

“It’s worth £2.5 to £3b alone each year in the UK. That’s just what we know about.

“That’s £2.5 to £3b taken away from our public purse.

“In a cost of living crisis that is money that could be going into our services. It really is serious.”

Tony Hames, Conservative councillor for Pontefract South, asked: “So we are talking about a black economy.

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“Do you think we are short of legislation on this type of thing?

“I always remember that they caught Al Capone on tax. They didn’t catch him on anything else.

“This is money that we could do with at a time when councils are starved of funding.”

Mr Hussain said: “The UK relies on a lot of honesty from people who submit their own tax returns

“No one is looking into what they did or didn’t make.

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“A lot of it is a black economy – people laundering money through takeaways, corner shops and car washes.

“So we don’t know exactly what they are genuinely turning over.

“It is quite difficult to access those records unless we have a full-on criminal investigation going on.

“We don’t have enough resources.

“There are avenues to get it but we don’t have the resources to look at every single trader.”

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The meeting heard disposable vapes far in excess of legal nicotine limits are being seized.

The legal maximum amount of liquid in each vape is 2ml, which allows for between 600 and 800 puffs.

Mr Hussain said: “The vapes we have seen have up to 10,000 puffs, that’s more than ten times the legal limit allowed then a disposable vape.

“The price is a fraction of legal vapes and sell for an average of between £3.50 and £4.

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“It makes it available for children to buy, when one of the government’s objectives is to make it expensive.

“It makes them available to buy with pocket money.”

Jeremy Newbound, a Wakefield Council anti-social behaviour case officer, said illegal traders contributed to a drop in footfall and an increase in street drinking in parts of the city centre, including around the Cathedral area.

Coun Hames asked Mr Newbound: “Are you receiving complaints from genuine traders that it is driving customers away?”

He replied: “Yes, we get complaints from businesses.

“It’s impacting people who come into the city centre to do shopping, people who live in the city centre and businesses in the city centre who see this sort of behaviour.

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“If a business is going to be involved in illegal activity, or condone it, or turn a blind eye to it, it is things like that that add to the ease of being able to drink the city centre and add to the anti-social behaviour.”