POLICE and trading standards officers have seized a large haul of illegal cigarettes and tobacco concealed in several hiding places in a convenience store.

More than 1,300 packs of illicit cigarettes and rolling tobacco were stashed in the cellar, at the bottom of the stairs, in stock rooms, and under a table of fruit and vegetables.

Two large postal sacks stuffed with tobacco were seized, although the shop is not a post office. Numerous cardboard produce boxes full of tobacco were also found. They were worth £13,000 if sold as genuine.

Because of previous seizures and a current prosecution against the Nelson shopkeepers, Lancashire County Council trading standards officers mounted the operation with the police.

The shop had been the subject of intelligence from the public and had previously sold illicit tobacco to test purchasers.

It is the latest of a number of recent seizures and prosecutions by county council trading standards officers.

In the last year more than 180,000 illicit cigarettes and more than 1,000kg of illicit tobacco have been taken from Lancashire traders in 55 seizures resulting in 15 criminal convictions.

Dawn Robinson, principal county council’s trading standards officer , said: “The number of cases we are dealing with demonstrates the value of the illegal trade in tobacco, with some unscrupulous retailers refusing to comply with the law on tobacco sales despite previous enforcement action against them.

“Cheap illicit tobacco is readily available to young people and encourages them to smoke and become addicted.

“The sale and manufacture of illegal tobacco has a negative impact on legitimate businesses. We are determined to tackle this type of crime.”