POLICE discovered an illegal worker from Syria when they raided a shop in search of counterfeit tobacco.

Officers teamed up with Trading Standards officers from Southend Council for an operation at two premises - one in Southchurch Road and another in Sutton. They refused to give further details about the businesses which were raided when quizzed by the Echo.

Officers seized 1,500 cigarettes and 5kg of tobacco during the raids.

They also uncovered an 18-year-old from Syria who was working in the UK illegally. Checks by Immigration Enforcement officers identified that the man has an ongoing immigration application.

He was released and must report regularly to Immigration Enforcement while his case is considered.

Sgt Ian Hughes, from the Southend community policing team, said: “We were working with Southend Council Trading Standards on the operation and we found one man from Syria who could not account for being in the UK.

“We asked if he had identification documents and he could not satisfy our questions about how he came to be living in the UK.

“He was detained and taken to the police station so he could be spoken to by immigration.

“Our concern was that there is a link between human trafficking and organised crime groups.

“Being concerned in the supply of illicit tobacco is a warning sign of people possibly being controlled by these groups.

“We are always working to protect people and safeguarding those that are vulnerable. In terms of the illegal tobacco it was a successful operation.”

Carl Robinson, director for public protection at Southend Council said: “This is the fifth operation in eight months and altogether nearly 30,000 cigarettes and 17.5kg of rolling tobacco have been seized.

“Together with Essex Police, we are sending out a very clear message to anyone selling illegal cigarettes that they will be caught and met with severe repercussions.

“While some people view selling under-the-counter cigarettes as a victimless crime, we have previously found counterfeit cigarettes containing asbestos and human excrement, posing a huge risk to anyone smoking them.”