A SHOPKEEPER sold dangerous illegal cigarettes for half price.

Karim Esnail claimed he had no idea that hundreds of pounds worth of dodgy fags were hidden inside the ceiling and behind light fittings in his shop in Chapel Road, Worthing.

Trading Standards sent an undercover officer into the shop and was sold a packet of Marlboros from under the counter for £5.50 instead of the usual £9.60 a pack.

The next day officers raided the shop and found foreign tobacco and cigarettes around the shop.

None of the packets bore the correct health warnings or had UK duty paid.

Tests carried out on some of the cigarettes showed that they did not self-extinguish - meaning they posed an even more significant fire risk to anyone who bought them.

Iranian Esnail, 39, who has since moved to Grove Place, Doncaster, claimed he had only bought the shop three days earlier and did not know the cigarettes were there.

But he was found guilty of six offences under the Tobacco Related products Regulations by Worthing magistrates.

At a sentencing hearing on Monday, Lucy Conroy, prosecuting for West Sussex County Council said: “The charges all relate to illicit tobacco products in that they couldn’t be bought in this country, had not been taxed and did not carry the requisite health warnings.

“West Sussex County Council Trading Standards received information that a convenience store at 83 Chapel Road Worthing was illegally selling cigarettes from under the counter

“As a result of that information on August 24 2016 a test purchase was carried out by a Trading Standards officer who went into the shop dressed as a customer.

“He asked the gentleman behind the counter if he had cheap cigarettes. He asked what brand and he replied Marlboro. As a result a packet was produced from under the counter with a foreign health warning.

“On August 26 Trading Standards officers entered the shop.

“Miss Conroy said they found 1.6kg of rolling tobacco and 20 packets of Pect-brand cigarettes

“The Pect cigaretts were taken to an ignition specialist and they failed ignition tests.

“All cigarettes in the UK have to extinguish within a certain time.

“This is a more serious offence because because it is a direct fire risk to anyone who bought these cigarettes and smoked them in their homes.

“Mr Esnail was interviewed and denied possession. He claimed he did not know they were there.”

Esnail failed to appear in court in April 2017. In May 2017 a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Magistrates sentenced him to a 12 month community order and told to complete 200 hours unpaid work and pay West Sussex County Council’s £2,259 costs.

A spokesman for West Sussex Trading Standards said: “Unsafe cigarettes that do not self-extinguish are dangerous and have in the past led to house fires.”

“We are committed to tackling this illegal trade.”

Anyone with information about illegal tobacco sales can report it by calling 03454 040506.