A SHOP worker has been jailed for his part in selling thousands of packets of illegal counterfeit cigarettes with potential health risks at two Hereford shops.

Hemen Jamal, aged 36, of Long Ley, Wolverhampton, admitted selling the counterfeit cigarettes at two convenience stores in Hereford and was jailed at Worcester Crown Court on Monday.

Jamal admitted three offences in contravention of the tobacco and related products regulations 2016 including failing to display health warnings on the packets and five trademark offences.

The court how 11,500 packets of counterfeit cigarettes, 7,000 packets of foreign cigarettes and 481 pouches of tobacco were seized following an investigation in November 2016.

The cigarettes were found in relatively small quantities at the Hereford stores following test purchases but later guilty pleas revealed Jamal had also been involved in the warehousing of much larger quantities. This is where the bulk of the cigarettes and tobacco were found.

The packages also did not display the appropriate health warnings which was taken by the judge to be an aggravating feature of the case.

The court heard how Jamal was born in Kurdistan and had no formal education, but came to the UK at the age of 17 and now lived in Wolverhampton, working as a shelf stacker and cleaner at a supermarket. The married father-of-two told a probation officer he could not afford to pay his staff and sold the cigarettes to keep the business solvent.

Giles Nelson, defending, said the cigarettes were a 'pooled resource' although accepted that his client was the only person in the dock, asking the judge to give give him credit for his guilty pleas.

Mr Nelson argued that the actual losses in terms of duty were difficult to quantify and said it would be wrong to attribute all of those losses to Jamal alone because it was 'a network'.

He said: "He's not a sophisticated villain by any means at all."

Judge Nicholas Cole said: "No duty had been paid on any of these cigarettes which I'm satisfied must have been smuggled into this country.

"It's clear to me that you did have significant involvement with the storage units and I accept that others may also have been involved and I also accept that you personally did not import or commission the importation of this tobacco.

"Nonetheless, the storage units were being used effectively as a warehouse to contain the stock which you were then selling illegally at your two shop premises. The total amount of duty evaded is estimated to be just short of £133,000."

However, the judge accepted that the entirety of the duty evaded could not be attributed to the defendant personally but argued that it was a good indication of the scale of the operation in which Jamal was involved.

The judge told Jamal: "This type of selling of counterfeit and illegal cigarettes represents a serious loss of revenue to HM Revenue and Customs."

He also told him that such actions damaged legitimate businesses and there was also a clear risk to health of those smoking the counterfeit cigarettes, 'over and above' the existing risks associated with smoking and that the products on sale did not meet the requisite EU safety standards.

Judge Cole said he took into account Jamal's lack of previous convictions but that his late pleas to some of the charges limited the amount of credit he would receive, telling Jamal he had initially denied any knowledge of the warehouse storage units to trading standards.

The judge also told him there was a need for deterrent sentences in cases of this kind.

"Shopkeepers who choose to sell illegal and counterfeit tobacco must understand they are likely to receive custodial sentences" he said.

The judge jailed him for 25 months.