30 Million Cigarettes Seized in Southampton

More than 30 million smuggled cigarettes have been discovered in a shipment supposed to be full of wind turbines.

Border Force officers first discovered 8.5 million cigarettes, which are believed to be counterfeit, crammed inside a cargo container at Southampton Container Port on March 1.

Further investigation led them to another two 40ft containers full of the illegal imports, bringing the total seized to around 30.3 million cigarettes.

The matter was then referred to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for investigation.

John Cooper, HMRC assistant director criminal investigation, said: ''The diligence of Border Force officers has prevented a huge quantity of cigarettes, believed to be Chinese counterfeits, from reaching the UK's streets.

''The sheer scale of this haul would undoubtedly have seen criminal gangs selling the tobacco to retailers, clubs, car boot sales and eventually UK consumers.

''HMRC will continue to work with Border Force to crackdown on tobacco fraud, which costs the UK Government around £1.8 billion a year.''

The smugglers were trying to avoid paying over £8 million in taxes and duty and had described the containers' contents as ''wind turbine parts'' on import documents, the HMRC said.

The three cigarette laden containers were loaded onto a cargo vessel in the Shenzhen area of China.

The investigation is continuing and no arrests have been made, a spokesman added.

Samples of the seized cigarettes are being tested, but are believed to be counterfeits made to look like Lambert & Butler and Regal brands.

They have now been shredded and burned at a power station to fuel the National Grid.