Eight Gravesend stores shops served closure notice over illegal tobacco trade

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Several shops, all believed to be involved in the sale of illegal tobacco, have been served with closure notices on Wednesday (27) in what is being touted as the biggest coordinated closure of such stores by a local authority in the UK.

According to local reports, eight shops in Gravesend have been served with closure notices ahead of a court hearing where closure orders will be sought.

The action by Gravesham Borough Council – 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 authority said in a statement.

The decision to seek closure orders comes after a number of 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.

The notices were served to Monika’s International, Baltic Groceries, Milton Road Mini Mart, Mila Groceries, Milano Grocery, Eastern European Mini Supermarket, New Road Groceries and Smart Mini Mart.

The notices, issued under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, ban all of the premises from trading ahead of a hearing at Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court scheduled for this Friday. All eight have been sealed up by Gravesham council.

Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, Gravesham council’s cabinet member for community and leisure, praised the work of the agencies involved, all of which had been working together on the planning of today’s operation over several months.

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

“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.