A SHOP owner was discovered with more than 4,000 illegal cigarettes and 2kg of rolling tobacco in a back room.

Ali Salih, who runs the 294 Mini Market in Chorley Old Road, said he had not known that the products were illegal and had been sold them by local residents who bought them while on holiday.

The contraband was discovered in September 2018 when Trading Standards officers raided the premises with a detection dog after receiving a tip-off from a Bolton PCSO who believed he had seen a woman come into the shop in search of illicit products.

Following a search of the building, officers found a holdall in a toilet towards the back of the shop which contained the equivalent of 220 packs of cigarettes and more than 50 packs of rolling tobacco.

The products were illegal for sale in the UK as they were not in plain packaging and some had foreign health warnings on them.

Tom Burton, the PCSO who witnessed the initial interaction, told officers he had been in the shop to review some CCTV footage in May and had seen a woman come to the counter and have a “very awkward” conversation with a clerk.

He recalled the women asking for “the cheap ciggys that I usually have” before pointing to the rear and below the counter.

Bolton Council’s licensing committee met this week to discuss Mr Salih’s case, he was represented at the meeting by solicitor Helen Dugdale, from Oakmount Law Solicitors.

Explaining the shop owner’s position, Ms Dugdale said: “Mr Salih has come here today not to defend himself, because it’s not defensible. He accepts fully that what he has done is wrong.”

She added: “He comes here really to ask for an opportunity to show the local authority that he is a responsible business owner and a responsible person who can operate in a manner which the local authority want businesses to operate in.”

The committee, chaired by Cllr Madeline Murray and including Cllr Kevin McKeon and Cllr Stuart Haslam, was told that Mr Salih had only sold ten packets of the prohibited products and had never had any problems with the law since taking over at the shop in October 2016.

The only interaction he had with police was an incident during which he had refused to serve a young male who had come into the shop looking to buy cigarettes.

When asked for identification, the man - along with a group of people who had come to the shop with him - became abusive and tried to vandalise the outside of the store. Mr Salih went outside to stop the damage but was attacked and stabbed.

Ms Dugdale argued that the incident, as well as Mr Salih’s actions and his work with the police afterwards showed that he “has regard to the principles that every license holder must understand”.

The council ruled that Mr Salih should be allowed to continue operating with his current license, but must set up a CCTV camera which would be positioned to cover transactions at the till. The footage must then be made available to police and other responsible authorities for 28 days.

Further investigations into the case are being completed by the Trading Standards Agency which could result in Mr Salih facing a fine or even a prison sentence.