Newsagent sentenced illegal tobacco charges

A swoop by Trading Standards officers on a newsagent’s in High Wycombe found a stash of illegal tobacco in a toilet cupboard.

And at Wycombe magistrates court on Wednesday (20 November) Chandrasegaram Muthaya, the proprietor of N&N News, of Desborough Road, was sentenced to a 12-month Community Order for breaching tobacco product supply and trade mark regulations.

He had been found guilty at a trial, on 15 October, on five charges relating to supplying tobacco without health warnings, in packs that didn’t comply with regulations, and having for sale tobacco in counterfeit packaging. He had been remanded for sentencing.

The court was told that Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards officers took detection dogs with them on a visit to Mr Muthaya’s shop on 18 December last year.

They found packets of hand rolling tobacco in a plastic carrier bag in a toilet cupboard at the front of the store. There were no English warnings on the packets, which were not coloured plain green as required by regulations.

Four packets of 50g tobacco were seized – two claiming to be branded Amber Leaf and two claiming to be Golden Virginia – which failed authenticity tests run by Trading Standards officers.

When interviewed Mr Muthaya said he didn’t know why the tobacco was in the cupboard, and hadn’t checked it in the two years he had owned the shop.

However, magistrates at the previous hearing said the cupboard was near to the shop till, Mr Muthaya was responsible for cleaning the toilet, and they did not believe that he had never checked the cupboard.

Mr Muthaya confirmed he used to have a problem with illicit tobacco but he had stopped and didn’t sell it any more. He said his business had had its alcohol licence taken away.

He confirmed that he bought his tobacco products from a cash and carry supplier in west London.

Magistrates ordered Mr Muthaya to complete 18 rehabilitation days under a 12-month Community Order. They also ordered him to pay £2,260 costs and a victim surcharge of £85. The tobacco seized during the Trading Standards investigation will be destroyed.

In a similar case brought by Trading Standards in July 2018, Mr Muthaya was given a suspended prison sentence of eight weeks, and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £115 and costs of £1,500.

However, magistrates said although Mr Muthaya committed the latest offences while on a suspended sentence order, they decided not to activate it because jail would have a significant impact on his family and his severe health conditions, and there was a realistic chance of rehabilitation. Instead they fined him £184.

Steve Ruddy, Head of Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards, said: “Let this case be a warning to anyone tempted to deal in illegal cigarettes and tobacco that our Trading Standards officers take their role of enforcement very seriously.

“All tobacco is harmful, but the supply of illegal cigarettes seriously undermines the drive to reduce smoking, it fuels organised criminality and it’s often a gateway for young people to becoming addicted to a habit which prematurely kills over half its users.”

To report a trader selling cheap and illegal tobacco, contact the Buckinghamshire Illegal Tobacco Hotline on 0300 999 6 999.