Two Widnes residents who had been selling counterfeit goods on Facebook and were found with more than 12,000 cigarettes with a value of more than £4,500 in their car, narrowly escaped jail, after a successful prosecution by Halton Borough Council’s Trading Standards Service.

Donna Marie Clarke, aged 38, and Paul James, aged 37, of Ditchfield Road, Widnes, were sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday 9 December, for selling counterfeit cigarettes that were also not compliant with safety legislation after pleading guilty at the Magistrate’s Court in November.

The case is part of a concentrated campaign by Halton Borough Council targeting Facebook sellers, which is being stepped up over Christmas.

Both received 12 month prison sentences which were suspended for 18 months. In addition Clarke was given a 200 hours community order, whilst James received a 100 hour community order for his involvement in the criminality, and they both have to comply with probation supervision orders.

Crown Court Recorder Brandon, who heard the case, agreed with the Magistrates Court and in summing up she acknowledged the seriousness of the offences committed by Clarke and James .

Recorder Brandon also agreed with Halton Trading Standards that the sale of counterfeit goods and illicit tobacco carries a real risk of harm to the residents of Halton.

Clarke and James were stopped by Police on 25 February2016 whilst driving their vehicle through Widnes. A search of the vehicle uncovered 12,200 counterfeit cigarettes with an estimated value of £4,575. The vehicle, an iPhone and £600 in cash were all seized.

All of the items seized were signed over to Halton Trading Standards. Clarke had been selling the counterfeit tobacco via her Facebook account to a wide variety of ‘friends’, without a care as to their safety or well-being.

Halton Borough Council’s Trading Standards Officers have seized over £25,000 worth of counterfeit goods that were being sold in Halton, including more than 25,000 cigarettes, 3.4 kg of tobacco and about 150 high value designer goods.

Officers have also seized £2,140 in cash, three vehicles (including a Taxi cab valued at £26,000) and 6 mobile phones from the sellers.

Officers are pro-actively targeting Facebook sellers during the run up to Christmas this year and are keen to promote a clear message to counterfeit goods sellers in Halton that they cannot hide behind social media accounts and that sellers face criminal enforcement action when they’re caught.

Their computers, mobile phones and even vehicles can be seized. A conviction will have an impact on their private lives – their employment prospects, their ability to get holiday visas and their reputation in the community.

Halton Borough Council’s Executive Board Member for Trading Standards, Cllr Dave Cargill , said: “Counterfeit and illicit tobacco is considerably cheaper than legitimate tobacco making it more affordable for young people to start smoking and more difficult for existing smokers to quit.

In 2015 31 per cent of 14 to 17-year- olds in Halton who smoke, according to a recent Trading Standards North West survey, reported they had bought cigarettes with health warnings in different languages i.e. illicit cigarettes.

“We have a duty to protect the children of Halton and the health of all of its residents and so it is important that we prosecute those involved in the supply of cheap and unsafe cigarettes and tobacco like Clarke and James.

“Hopefully this case sends out a clear message to these criminals that our Trading Standards Service is coming for them and that the Courts share our views on the seriousness of the offences.”

If you have any information involving the sale of counterfeit or illicit cigarettes or alcohol then please telephone the Trading Standards Reporting Hotline for Alcohol and Tobacco on 0151 511 8787.

This is a reporting voicemail facility only and any information provided can be left anonymously, however, please provide enough information to identify those involved and if you want feedback your contact details too.

All other trading standards matters can be reported in the usual manner by contacting the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506.