Heanor fake vodka haul could cause blindness

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Fake vodka containing antifreeze that could leave drinkers blind was uncovered in a secret large–scale bottling plant raided by trading standards officers.

Derbyshire County Council’s trading standards team discovered the plant in Heanor industrial unit on Wednesday, December 10, in a joint operation with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) following a tip–off from a member of the public.

Officers found evidence of illegal vodka production using unauthorised ‘Smirnoff’ red brand labels on 70cl bottles.

They also discovered hundreds of empty five–litre antifreeze containers, equipment for filling bottles and approximately 20,000 empty bottles ready for filling – worth an estimated £280,000 if sold legitimately just under the recommended retail price.

Hundreds of unauthorised boxes marked with the Smirnoff brand and used Smirnoff labels were also seized. Officers also removed a small quantity of what was believed to be the finished product. This is now being analysed to determine the content.

Man–made chemicals such as antifreeze can cause sore throats, breathing difficulties, dizziness, sickness, blurred vision and even blindness when consumed.

The council’s cabinet member for health and communities Councillor Dave Allen said: “The presence of these chemicals could mean there is a real and serious health risk to anyone if they’ve purchased or consumed the product.

“We would advise anyone who thinks they may have drunk illegal vodka to seek medical advice and to let us know immediately where they bought it from.

“Not only can buying alcohol from unknown sources pose a very real risk to public safety the proceeds from these sales may be linked to organised crime.

“Illegally produced alcohol is often sold at a much cheaper price than legitimate brands and can seem like a good deal but it is not worth the risk and shopkeepers found to be selling illegal alcohol face serious penalties including the loss of their licence.”

Trading Standards says anyone who believes they may have purchased fake alcohol to look out for the following things –

– An unusually low price (average £15 recommended retail price for Smirnoff red label 70cl)

– Misaligned, crooked or creased labels and branding

– An unfamiliar or bad taste or aftertaste

– A strong or overpowering smell

No–one was present in the plant – at the time of the raid and investigations are ongoing. The Trading Standards team has stated that at this stage of the investigation it is not known whether or not the finished product mould have been distributed.

A spokesman for Smirnoff’s parent company Diageo said: “At Smirnoff, the protection of our consumers and the reputation of all our brands is of paramount importance to us.

“As such, we work closely to assist all enforcement bodies including trading standards, the police and HMRC as we recognise the important and valuable role they have in protecting consumers.”

Anyone concerned about the taste or packaging of any Smirnoff product can call the Diageo consumer care helpline on 0845 6014558.

Consumers and retailers are urged to be on their guard for anyone attempting to sell them cut price alcohol and should report any concerns Derbyshire County Council’s trading standards team on 01629 536166. Alternatively, residents can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or Consumer Direct on 03454 04 05 06.