Greengrocer used £20,000 illegal cigarette haul to pay his workers

Farnsworth fruit and veg store.
Farnsworth fruit and veg store.

A shop owner who used a £20,000 haul of illegal tobacco to pay his workers was caught out after a trading standards swoop.

Michael Farnsworth, who runs the Farnsworth greengrocer store in St James Mall, Hebburn, was found in possession of 1,974 packets of prohibited tobacco - which didn’t carry health warnings - and 250 packets of counterfeit cigarettes during the raid at his premises.

Farnsworth fruit and veg cigarette find

Farnsworth fruit and veg cigarette find

The 62-year-old admitted charges of possessing goods with a false trade mark for sale and posessing for supply goods prohibited by safety regulations when he appeared at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court.

The court heard that Farnsworth, of The Avenue, Washington, had been storing the cigarettes for a person he refused to name and was not aware they were illegal but had used the Turner Tobacco packets - valued at £10 each - in lieu of payment to people who carried out work for him.

He was hit with a £530 court bill and told to “stick to the fruit and veg” after being sentenced by a district judge.

Debbie Lloyd, prosecuting on behalf of South Tyneside Council, said: “On September 25, as a result of information received, South Tyneside Council’s trading standards team and Northumbria Police, searched the store.

It seems to me you have been a bit of a mug

DJ Gary Garland

“They found 250 packets of Superkings cigarettes, which were later examined and found to be counterfeit. They also found 1,974 packets of Turner tobacco.”

Nigel Hedley, defending, said: “He has been naive to a large extent. This is not a case were he was selling the counterfeit cigarettes. He was storing them for someone else.

“In regards to the tobacco, he has lads who help to load the fruit and he has given them tobacco in return.

“The packets have been brought in from Spain and don’t have health warnings we require in this country. It is a simple exchange of goods in lieu of cash.

“He has no previous convictions.”

District Judge Gary Garland fined Farnsworth £200 for possession of the counterfeit cigarettes, £100 for possessing to supply the Turner tobacco and ordered him to pay £200 costs and a £30 victim surcharge. Judge Garland said: “It seems to me you have been a bit of a mug.

“Storing goods for anybody, even close members of your family, if its boxes and bags in this quantity of material, means you would have to ask yourself some questions.

“Your failure is not asking those questions.

“The law would say an honest man, when he found himself in trouble with the authorities, would say where the product came from.

“You do get credit as a man of mature years who has never been in trouble with the courts in all his life but I do think these offences are serious. The counterfeit products could have anything in them and the revenue service is cheated out of the taxes they should be getting.”