Crack down on counterfeit alcohol sales in Islington nets treasury £460,000

Islington trading standards officer Doug Love with bottles of counterfeit alcohol

Islington trading standards officer Doug Love with bottles of counterfeit alcohol - Credit: Polly Hancock

A tough stance on sale of illicit alcohol and smuggled spirits in Islington is saving the treasury almost half a million pounds in lost duty every year.

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Our investigation has revealed sales of fake booze in Islington have reduced drastically since trading standards launched a targeted operation to get tough on the counterfeit trade in 2010.

The value of lost duty to the treasury from illicit alcohol sales in the borough has fallen from an estimated £490,000 in 2010-11 to £30,000 in 2014-15 based on seizures made.

Bogus or smuggled bottles of well-known whisky and vodka brands - such as Smirnoff, Vladivar, Famous Grouse, Teacher’s - and cheap Italian wine are now much less common in Islington than five years ago.

The back label on this bottle of Gordons Gin has had the stamp removed leaving a tell-tale sticky re

The back label on this bottle of Gordons Gin has had the stamp removed leaving a tell-tale sticky residue and a damaged label. This is a bottle originally destined for export - Credit: Polly Hancock

Trading standards officer Doug Love, who spearheaded the alcohol fraud scheme, said: “In 2010 I was astounded at how much illicit alcohol was being seized.

“Buyers couldn’t know whether it was dangerous counterfeit product and we started an ongoing project to reduce illicit alcohol in the borough.”

The council and HMRC carried out spot checks on the 300 or so independent off-licences in Islington.

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When the project began around 84 per cent of checks resulted in counterfeit alcohol being confiscated.

The back label on this bottle of Gordons Gin has had the stamp removed leaving a tell-tale sticky re

The back label on this bottle of Gordons Gin has had the stamp removed leaving a tell-tale sticky residue and a damaged label. This is a bottle originally destined for export - Credit: Polly Hancock

Trading standards opened the doors on its stock pile of seized alcohol to the Gazette in an effort to alert the public to the clever copies of wine brands and spirits found on sale in the borough.

Among them is a bottle of Jacob’s Creek with multiple spelling errors on its label but it is an otherwise convincing fake.

Another bottle of premium brand Stolichnaya vodka has original Spanish labels concealed by UK copies stuck on top.

Many bottles of spirits among the haul, which is kept by trading standards to use in training, have fake UK duty stamps, a clear warning of a counterfeit product.

The back label on this bottle of Gordons Gin has had the stamp removed leaving a tell-tale sticky re

The back label on this bottle of Gordons Gin has had the stamp removed leaving a tell-tale sticky residue and a damaged label. This is a bottle originally destined for export - Credit: Polly Hancock

Seizures have fallen markedly since the tough new measures were implemented.

Shops caught stocking illicit alcohol were subjected to a licence review or prosecutions under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which make it an offence to display illegal goods as if they were legal.

In 2012-13 Islington’s seizure rate for illicit alcohol fell to 22 per cent and in 2014-15 this was down further to 16 per cent.

“Occasionally you do get counterfeit alcohol that could be lethal, but from our point of view it’s mostly a financial crime,” said Mr Love.

“I suspect that there will at some stage be a particularly lethal batch of illegally-produced vodka distributed in the UK.

“I am happy that we have reduced the possibility of Islington consumers being affected in such a scenario.”

If you have information about the sale of counterfeit alcohol or tobacco, which can be given anonymously, contact Islington Trading Standards on 020 7527 4028 or trading.standards@islington.gov.uk

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