Published: 12:39, 14 October 2021
| Updated: 14:21, 14 October 2021
Thousands of illegal cigarettes have been found hidden behind air vents, under a bench, in a false bottom in a fridge and behind a false wall after raids on town centre shops.
One hidden compartment discovered at a store in Gravesend contained more than 18,000 illegal cigarettes.
Warrants were executed as part of a joint operation involving police and Kent County Council Trading Standards.
The hide was detected on October 6 following a number of searches at several businesses in the town, which also involved HM Revenue and Customs, Gravesham council and Home Office Immigration.
Specialist search dogs joined the teams looking for illegally obtained cigarettes and tobacco, which are sold without paying the necessary UK duties.
Three shops were visited in Milton Road. The haul of 18,000 cigarettes was found in one of the stores hidden behind an air vent, with more found concealed under a bench.
At another premises a false bottom was found inside a fridge, which revealed even more illegal cigarettes. In a third shop, officers found a device which sprang open a false wall where more tobacco was stored.
In total, more than 28,000 cigarettes were seized along with 137 pouches of tobacco.
The operation is the third of its kind in recent weeks to target illicit tobacco sales in the town, after previous action last month when officers confiscated 21,133 cigarettes and 102 pouches of tobacco, as well as mobile phones, vehicles and cash.
Inspector James Beautridge, from the Gravesham Community Safety Unit, said: "The results from these days of action speak volumes as we have been able to make significant seizures as well as gather a vast amount of intelligence.
"The supply and sale of illicit cigarettes and tobacco is an ongoing issue for towns across the country.
"It is an illegal trade which we know is often associated with the activities of organised criminal groups.
"Law-abiding businesses operating in these areas are also negatively affected by this type of crime.
"We worked with our partners to take swift and robust action and are now in a position to apply for closure orders in connection to some of the businesses."