Just under £100,000 in cash has been seized in raids across Nelson as part of an investigation into illicit cigarette and alcohol sales.

Trading Standards and police carried out simultaneous 7am searches at two houses and one town centre shop as part of the investigation into suspected money laundering and organised crime activity.

After linking a number of recent purchases and shop seizures 15 trading standards officers and six neighbourhood policing team officers took part in the raids which saw just under £100,000 in unaccounted for cash found in two houses.

A total of 680 packs of cigarettes, with a retail value of around almost £4,000, were seized from a locked hiding place. The haul included counterfeit copies of brands such as Mayfair, Amber Leaf and Richmond, brands bearing foreign health warnings such as Pect and Minsk, and fancy multi-coloured patterned packs that are classed as child-appealing and cannot be sold under the UK's plain packaging requirements.

Three men and a woman are currently under investigation, and checks into the supply chain are continuing. The traders involved face possible prosecution by Trading Standards in relation to offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994 and The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

County Councillor Albert Atkinson, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said: "This seizure is our sixth from Pendle shops since the start of 2018. The availability of cheap illegal tobacco and lack of picture warnings on these products contribute to keeping smoking rates high in East Lancashire, while surveys show a higher percentage of child smokers buy illicit tobacco than adult smokers. This seizure sends out a message to those operating illegally that such activity will not be tolerated."

Sgt Nigel Hindle, who covers Nelson. said: "We are committed to proactively working with our partners to tackling organised crime in the borough of Pendle.

"Together with our partners from Lancashire Trading Standards we were specifically targetting illicit tobacco and alcohol and the associated money from that. As a result of that we seized a significant amount of illegal tobacco and just under £100,000 in cash, "This sort of activity will not be tolerated and we will use all the resources at out disposal to bring anybody involved in organised crime to justice."

A police spokesman added: "A large scale warrants operation took place in Nelson today where two domestic and a retail premise were searched as part of an ongoing police and trading standards targeted operation focussing on illicit tobacco, alcohol and money laundering.

"Initial searches of the premises have yielded just under £100,000 in cash and several thousand pounds worth of illegal tobacco hidden in the premises. Further searches are expected to go on throughout the day at various locations in Nelson.

"This was a great example of proactive partnership work focussing on our ongoing commitment towards tackling organised crime in the borough.

"Enquiries are ongoing and prosecutions anticipated."

Consumers who suspect they have seen counterfeit or otherwise illegal goods on sale can report them to trading standards by calling the citizens advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.