SPRINGER Spaniel Ricco is helping win the fight against the sale of illegal cigarettes in Bolton.

The specially trained sniffer dog uncovered 40,000 packets of illicit cigarettes at a shop in Rumworth, a stash which had been carefully concealed inside a secret compartment.

Police and trading standards in Bolton have joined forces to crackdown on the sale of illegal tobacco and hippy crack in Bolton.

They seized tens of thousands of packets of illegal cigarettes and nitrous oxide 'laughing gas' cannisters in a series of raids on shops and homes.

This Is Lancashire:

(Ricco)

Officers targeted newsagents selling laughing gas cannisters for recreational use – while also netting duty free packets of cigarettes and tobacco, alongside counterfeit products.

Ricco was deployed to sniff out the illegal goods which are often carefully hidden from view.

In one raid, Ricco discovered 40,000 packets of illegal cigarettes at a shop in Rumworth. A stash had been carefully concealed inside a secret compartment in the shop, with further items discovered behind a false wall in the cellar.

This Is Lancashire:

(Hidden stash of cigarettes at a shop in Rumworth)

A simultaneous raid by Salford police and trading standards officers on a house in Little Hulton in Salford, which was linked to the Bolton newsagent, netted more than 60,000 packets of illicit cigarettes.

A day of action by police and council officers also saw further raids on a number of Bolton newsagents.

In one visit to a shop in Breightmet, officers found more than 4,500 “laughing gas” cannisters, which are often sold to children and young people. Hidden packets of illicit rolling tobacco were also discovered.

The shops and home addressed have not been released by police or trading standards.

All items have been confiscated and owners of both shops and the residential property now face criminal proceedings.

Council bosses have declined to identify the offending premises.

This Is Lancashire:

(Trading standards and police seize a stash from raids on newsagents)

Bolton Council’s Executive Cabinet Member for Environment Regulatory Services, Cllr Hilary Fairclough, said: “This is great work by our teams at the council and the police. The illegal trade in these kind of products has the potential to cause real harm to our communities and I’m delighted to see a zero tolerance approach being taken.

“This won’t be the end of our action against those trading illegally in these goods – and further raids are planned. I want to issue a warning to shops who continue to sell these items: we’ll be paying you a visit soon! And we’ll be bringing our very intelligent four-legged friend who has a fantastic ability to sniff out these items no matter how well you try to hide them!

“Where appropriate the council will also be reviewing the licenses of premises which are caught engaging in this activity.”

Nitrous oxide or laughing gas is a psychoactive colourless gas which is inhaled through a balloon, attached to a canister, to create a ‘high’ for the users. Inhaling the gas can cause dizziness, loss of consciousness, and hallucinations.

Cllr Fairclough added: “These cannisters, if inhaled, are dangerous and they pose a risk to the health of our young people. They are also an environmental hazard as the cannisters are often carelessly discarded by users.”

“Meanwhile the illegal sale of tobacco causes no end of problems. It is often linked to criminal gangs and in the case of counterfeit tobacco can cause an even greater risk to people’s health than legal products.

“The illegal sale of duty free tobacco in the UK also poses risks, with packets bought abroad not having the appropriate health warnings. Its under the counter sale also deprives the Exchequer of tax revenue – money which could be used to help pay for public services including the NHS. My message to people is simple: don’t buy it.”

Inspector Abed Hussain from GMP's Bolton division, added: "Anti-social behaviour and the sale of illegal substances can have a hugely detrimental impact on communities and be distressing for residents.

"The results of these raids not only means that there are less of these substances on our streets, but also acts as a warning to those selling them and reassures our local communities that it is an issue that that we will not tolerate and will act upon the intelligence we receive.

"Our officers will be regularly patrolling hotspot areas to disrupt offending, as well as provide advice to those who are using psychoactive substances as to how dangerous it can be. This includes signposting people who need it to the most appropriate support service. We will also be continuing to work closely with key partners to tackle the issue and help keep our communities safe.

"I would encourage anyone who has any information or concerns to please report it to ourselves via the GMP website or by calling 101. Alternatively, you can report any crime anonymously to CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111. Always call 999 in an emergency.”

There were more than 200 reports of illegal tobacco being sold in Greater Manchester between March and October 2020, according to the Keep it Out campaign which was set up to tackle the illegal trade. In the same period, over 1.7million illegal cigarettes and more than 100kg of illegal hand rolling tobacco were seized by Trading Standards officers in Greater Manchester.

Keep it Out launched a three-week campaign across Greater Manchester on November 9 aimed at raising awareness of the harm caused by illicit tobacco sales.

For more information head to: www.keep-it-out.co.uk