A FORGER masterminded a £170,000 counterfeit cash operation using a printing press in the front room of his terraced home.

Gulzameer Akram, 28, circulated notes throughout the UK - charging £4 or £5 for each £20 note - from a small, three-bedroomed house in Hope Terrace, Blackburn.

Police recovered bogus notes in various stages of production when they discovered the "significant and sophisticated" operation - for which Akram was jailed for three years yesterday.

There was also a large laser printer, a hot foil press and other items clearly designed for the process of counterfeiting.

Kabir Hussain, 23, of Cedar Street, Blackburn, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make counterfeit currency notes and was given a year in prison, suspended for two years, and 120 hours unpaid work.

Preston Crown Court heard that the Bank of England had managed to recover more than £65,000 in fake currency which had ended up in circulation.

Mr Francis McEntee, prosecuting, said that sheets of A4 paper were used to print off three notes at a time.

On August 6 last year police executed warrants at Akram's home and a unit of the Adam industrial estate, Temple Drive, Blackburn, after a covert operation - codenamed Mespil - prompted by a tip-off.

Akram was in a vehicle, outside the house and was arrested on the spot.

A number of people - including Hussain - were in the premises.

"The front room was set up effectively as a printing press" said Mr McEntee.

"The second premises at the industrial estate appear to have been a preparation or storage point.

"The remains of equipment were there, like wrappers for various pieces of equipment."

As soon as he was arrested, Akram, who also gave an address in Cedar Street, sought to take sole responsibility for all that was happening.

He told police: "Whatever's here is mine. It's in that front room."

Hussain's DNA was found on a glove inside the front room at Hope Terrace and his fingerprints were also discovered on carrier bags containing white tape which was embossed with the Queen's head.

Packages of sheets of 'money' were discovered that might have generated £57,000 if they had gone into circulation.

Boxes of other sheets were also recovered, which could have amounted to £47,000.

Mr John Woodward, defending, said "He was heavily in debt and that's the reason why he was carrying out this enterprise, initially simply to pay off a debt.

"He was candid with the police when they very first apprehended him.

"He saved enormous police time by trying to prove the crime against him."

A pre-sentence report by the probation service was said to refer to the defendant's "poor thinking skills".

Mr Richard Bennett, defending Hussain, said he had come on the scene just two days prior to the police warrant being executed.

"The prosecution are not able to say he was involved in the actual production.

"He did not get any financial gain from this".

In passing sentence, Judge Philip Sycamore said "It is quite apparent, not only was the conspiracy carefully prepared and planned by Gulzameer Akram, a significant quantity of bank notes were in circulation..

"This sort of conduct undermines the very structure of our society and in addition to that, can cause potential financial loss to innocent people caught up in the process, who may be the innocent recipient of bank notes that are worthless."

After the case, Det Insp Pete Simm said: "Although this type of crime is extremely rare, some of the money is still in circulation.

"This man put a lot of time and effort into this. He had the Queen's head on the notes and was using the right ink.

"This kind of offence just goes to show that counterfeit notes are in circulation and that they do still exist.

"I would ask that people who are in business remain vigilant."