Killer vodka gang jailed: the risks of fakes

Fake vodka

Three men have been sentenced for making fake vodka, which could have killed anyone who drank it. Their plan was uncovered after an explosion at the distillery where they were making, it in the summer of 2011, and the gang of three have been brought to justice.

It's a timely reminder of how dangerous fakes can be.



The three West Midlands men were sentenced as the culmination of an investigation that started in the summer of 2011. That July there had been an explosion at an industrial unit in Boston, Lincolnshire, which killed five men. Officers raided the unit, and discovered an illicit distillery.

Forensic analysis of the counterfeit vodka being produced showed it contained dangerous levels of methanol which is used in antifreeze, solvent and cleaning fluids. The effects of drinking methanol include nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, blindness, kidney or liver problems, coma or death.

Adrian Farley, Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation for HMRC, said:"This was a substantial bottling, production and distribution plant. It was capable of making and distributing large quantities of counterfeit vodka throughout the country."

"The crime gang took no precautions to make the environment safe, creating a high risk of an explosion and loss of life in their city centre unit. They were fully aware that the counterfeit vodka, which contained dangerous levels of methanol, was unfit to drink. They duped the public into buying what they believed were legitimate goods when in fact the counterfeit vodka could have killed them."

The vodka, which was being branded 'Arctic Ice', was already on sale in some independent shops. Seizures were made in; Birmingham, Hereford, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcester by Trading Standards, some of which are pursuing separate prosecutions.

Michael Woodlock, a 52 year old from West Bromwich, was sentenced to 12 months in prison, while Gavin Berrow, a 42 year old from Brierley Hill, and Alex Dean Rollason, a 20 year old from Old Hill, Cradley Heath were both sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 12 months, with 200 hours of unpaid work.

This is a victory for HMRC, which not only took the dangerous goods off the street, but saved taxpayers nearly £500,000 in lost revenue.

Dangerous fakes

It's also a reminder of how a decision to save a few pounds by buying fake goods could be a highly dangerous one. There are millions of fakes on sale in the UK, and it may seem harmless to buy a knock-off and save money. However, there are plenty of people paying the price for this decision.

We reported last summer that Leanne Wetheim, 24, of Gilwern, Wales sentenced and fined for selling fake designer makeup online - after it emerged that some of the counterfeit cosmetics contained dangerous levels of lead.

Then last month there were widespread warnings in the West Midlands over fake Apple phone charges, which were giving electric shocks and destroying the products plugged into them.

If something is surprisingly cheap, you can easily get your hands on something that is supposed to be hard to obtain, or you are uncertain of the individual or company selling you the products, then the advice is to err on the side of caution.

Sometimes it's hard to spot the fakes just by looking at them. Earlier this month the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Agency (MHRA) warned that millions of fake condoms had been illegally imported in the last 18 months, which don't provide protection against pregnancy or infections because of a much higher burst rate.

They looked the same as the real thing, they were on sale in corner shops for the same price, and were very hard to spot. The experts say that to be on the safe side pharmacy items and medicines should only be purchased from a reputable pharmacy.

But what do you think? Would you buy a fake? Is it worth the risk? Let us know in the comments.
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