A raid of Tajinder Singh’s Washington Wine and Convenience store in Usworth, Sunderland, revealed counterfeit plain packs mixed in with legitimate stock in the gantry.

The operation by law authorities took place on 22 May 2017, just two days after compulsory plain packaging was introduced. Imperial Tobacco’s anti-illicit trade manager James Hall warned the discovery is “simply the tip of the iceberg”.

Last month, the 37-year-old retailer admitted fraudulent evading duty on the 10,040 illicit cigarettes found at the premises including counterfeit plain and non-plain packs. The retailer claimed he was unaware the stock was counterfeit and said he'd been duped by a fake wholesaler called “Go Go Beers” offering sleeves of cigarettes at £2-3 less than his normal wholesaler.

However, Singh never sent the invoices to his external accountant and the court ruled he had not shown due diligence in checking the wholesaler’s legitimacy.

His Imperial gantry was removed by the tobacco company last week with Hall warning: “We were concerned before the implementation of the new regulations that standardised packaging would hinder, rather than help, in the fight against illegal tobacco, and cases like the above simply reinforce our contention.”

HMRC’s 2014 impact assessment on plain packaging said legimate retailers may unsuspectingly end up selling counterfeit packs if organised crime groups infiltrate the wholesale market.

The tobacco seized at Singh’s store represents the earliest counterfeit plain packs taken by police in the UK, though many more plain counterfeit packs and brands have been reported.

Retail Express exposed the existence of counterfeit plain packs in Autumn 2017, showing the illicit products were being sold at or above RRP to unsuspected customers, creating “a new headache” for trading standards departments.

Read more about counterfeit plain packs here.