A raid by Ealing Council’s trading standards team and police has netted more than £5 million worth of counterfeit goods, including the largest haul of pirate Bollywood DVDs in UK history.
Officers raided 11 units at the Shurgard self-storage site on Uxbridge Road at Hayes, near Southall, and seized 1.75 million items. The estimated 13 tonnes of merchandise included around 200,000 counterfeit Hollywood, Bollywood and pornographic DVDs, around 1.5 million cover sleeves, blank DVDs, CDs, fake Nike and Timberland trainers and counterfeit sports clothing. Around 75 per cent of all DVDs seized were Bollywood titles.
Four people were arrested and three cars were seized, with more arrests expected to follow. More than £6000 in cash was also seized.
The investigation was led by the council’s trading standards officers, assisted by Southall Safer Neighbourhood police teams, and supported by the British recorded music body The BPI. It followed months of intelligence gathering by the three agencies.
Councillor Will Brooks, cabinet member for environment and transport, who has responsibility for trading standards, said: “This is an outstanding result for our trading standards team and local police.
“Our officers have followed the chain of intelligence from the street sellers and market stalls to the very centre of packaging and distribution. Smashing this ring at its heart will have a major impact on the counterfeit market in West London and beyond.
“Our action sends a clear message that we are a step ahead of their game and will not let this crime go unpunished.
“Film piracy may seem like a victimless crime but it has links to organised crime and other criminal activity including the drugs market, violence, benefit fraud, and the abuse of people who are forced to sell these items on the street.
“When consumers buy a pirate DVD, not only do they risk viewing a poor quality film, they are also supporting organised crime.”
Making Ealing safer for all residents and visitors is one of the council’s three priorities. The other two priorities are cleaner streets and providing value for money services.
Ealing Borough Police, Community and Partnership Superintendent, Ian Jenkins, said: “This is an excellent example of partnership working between trading standards and our local safer neighbourhood police team. It portrays the exceptional results which can be achieved through information sharing and intelligence-led partnership operations.
“Ealing Borough Police would urge people who buy counterfeit goods to consider who benefits and ask themselves if they want to be funding criminals and criminality.
“We will continue to assist trading standards in targeting and ultimately prosecuting local crime networks that are involved in counterfeit sales and distribution to ensure that what’s sold on the streets is legal, so that everyone, consumer, trader and the industry, benefits.”
Genuine items equivalent to those seized would have an estimated value of more than £5 million. While pirate DVDs would usually be sold for between £3 and £5 each, officers believe the trainers and clothing could have been passed off as genuine items and sold for close to the regular retail price.
Investigations are ongoing and possible charges will be made under sections of the Trade Marks Act 1994, the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.
BPI General Counsel Roz Groome said: "This is without doubt the biggest seizure of Bollywood film and DVDs. Our record company members will no doubt be pleased to hear that this operation has disbanded what we allege was a highly organised and extensive illegal counterfeiting outfit."
The raid is the second successful counterfeit operation in less than a month for Ealing Council’s trading standards team. On October 17, officers netted more than 21,000 counterfeit Bollywood DVDs when they raided a home in East Ham. The pirate DVDs were due to be sold in Southall over Diwali and Eid.
Film piracy nets more than £270 million a year for criminals in the UK. Counterfeit DVDs and CDs are sold everywhere from ice cream vans through to barber’s shops and pubs and clubs.
It is an attractive trade for criminals who see it as a low risk, high profit industry. Gangs are thought to employ illegal immigrants trying to pay off their debts for a passage to the UK or to cover their lodgings.
Counterfeiting has also been linked to terror organisations, which are said to use the trade in fake goods as a means of raising funds and laundering cash.