Fake Britain takes a look at the multi-million pound counterfeit alcohol industry.
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In this special report, a deadly blast in what's thought to be
a fake vodka factory in Lincolnshire.
Tonight we take you inside the booming world of fake booze.
This is crazy. It's eight bottles every ten seconds.
It can take your life.
Dangerous to the point where a fatality may occur.
And it's closer than you might think.
That's actually a fake bottle. It's going to hurt people.
You need to get it off the streets.
You're under arrest.
Welcome to this special edition of Fake Britain.
You'll have seen in the news that five people burnt to death
in an explosion in what's thought to have been a fake vodka factory.
This might sound like an extraordinary story,
but as our investigation reveals, bogus booze is widespread
and you don't have to be making it for it to kill you.
In the early evening, a deadly explosion ripped through
a Boston warehouse thought to be brewing illegal alcohol.
Five men were found dead...
Thought to have been trapped inside the burning building.
There was a significant fire that spread extremely quickly.
They believe that the unit involved was being used
to illegally produce or brew alcohol.
The bodies of the dead men were driven out of the industrial estate.
The greatest single loss of life ever seen in a fire in Lincolnshire.
It's been a struggle to identify the five dead men,
but there is another worry.
Fake vodka production is common in Russia and eastern Europe.
Thousands die every year from the industrial chemicals
and antifreeze passed off as vodka.
And now they're making it in Britain.
Is this what they risk bringing here?
Back in Boston, it was only four months ago that officers
seized fake vodka containing cleaning fluid from six shops.
Just this month in Barnsley, scientists uncovered
rip-offs of reputable vodka brands containing crude industrial alcohol.
Dangerous and not fit for human consumption.
The worst case, of course, is when they're substituting
industrial alcohol to drink it on a long-term basis.
You can get blinded, as the worst instance.
What's been uncovered in Boston is no one-off.
In the past year, Customs seized
three quarters of a million litres of illegal spirit.
In rolling fields just outside Scarborough, police receive
a tip-off about a group of eastern European men acting suspiciously.
Surveillance confirms their concerns,
but when officers return with a warrant,
the lockup is deserted and empty.
What were they up to?
Curiously, a massive truck is parked up nearby.
Investigators are not prepared for what's inside.
Where to start?
This is crazy.
The east Europeans have loaded their entire fake vodka factory
into a getaway truck.
Well, we've clearly got ourselves a vodka manufacturing plant,
we can see that from the bottles, we can see that from the Smirnoff
and also the Glen's Vodka as well.
We have the vats which are full of vodka which is ready to be...
put into the bottles there. At least 12 vats full of the vodka.
That's going to make a lot of vodka.
Boxes ready to go.
There's absolutely hundreds if not thousands.
We've got all of them over there.
All of these at the top, including these cases as well.
These are all full of the boxes.
Ready to be used to package the bottles up.
We need to get the items examined, we need to have them sampled
to see what's in the contents of each of the bottles.
It could be dangerous, it could be a risk to the health of the community.
Obviously we don't want that getting out into the community,
cos you never know what could happen.
Every year in eastern Europe, where this gang come from,
thousands fall ill or die from fake vodka.
The question for Dave is how much has already been sold?
It's not just one bottle every five minutes.
It's eight bottles every ten seconds.
We don't know where these items have been sold.
If they've been doing this for several months,
there may be a whole host of bottles
out in the shops, pubs and bars of the local area.
Obviously that's a massive health issue and a concern.
Worryingly, most vodka is drunk with mixers,
covering up for the rough and insanitary way this is made.
We've got to think about the expectations that people,
the general honest reasonable person, is going to expect
when they get vodka, whether it be from a bar, a restaurant or a shop.
They expect to get an alcoholic beverage.
They might be getting poisoned.
There are several leads that we have to chase up - fingerprints,
DNA perhaps. All of these items will be looked at forensically.
Maybe there'll be hits on that.
It's such a large enterprise that I'd be surprised
if there are no leads whatsoever.
The police were receiving intelligence that there were
people in and around the Scarborough area coming and going from this unit.
There was evidence of bottles being left around.
It's clearly a professional business.
There's lots and lots and lots of money being made out of this.
Someone is in charge of this.
That person doesn't know that we've taken this just yet.
When they do, they're going to be pretty cross.
Customs say fake alcohol plants like this are booming,
costing the government ?350 million a year in lost tax.
Television for when they get bored.
Eventually, David's team trace the man renting the premises.
But he and all the others escaped back to eastern Europe.
This appears to be the bottling area.
No-one has yet called asking for their vodka factory back.
Up and down the country, thousands of bottles of seized fake vodka
stack up in trading standards warehouses.
Many of us have drunk it and never realised.
But it's left two people dead and many more seriously ill.
It's a gamble.
In this particular case, we've got
over 1,000 bottles of vodka behind me.
We picked all of those up in one day.
I was surprised at the amount,
but also surprised that 14 retailers were prepared to buy this stuff
out of the back of a white van with no VAT receipt, no nothing.
Then, bless them, they'll come to court and plead
that in all innocence they had no reason to suspect
there was anything wrong.
It beggars belief that they expect the magistrates to believe them.
This will be it here.
Later we'll pay a visit to the shops that sell this stuff.
It's unregulated. We don't know what's in it.
And that's the worry.
You've seen the lengths that bogus booze merchants will go
to copy reputable brands, but how can you tell if it's fake?
They say if it smells of cleaning fluid or nail polish,
don't drink it.
But here lies the problem -
most people who drink vodka mix it with cola or tonic.
Of course, that masks any warning of taste or smell.
At the Kent Summer Fair, Trading Standards are desperate
to get the message out to Middle England.
I don't know if you realise, we're Trading Standards.
This market stall is full of counterfeit goods.
Come inside and I'll show you some of the things.
Many here often doubt their vodka tonic could be tainted.
They manage to copy the labels very clearly.
You would believe that it is actually a genuine product.
The thing that concerns me as well is the fact that,
A, it's available, so whilst I might not buy it,
if I had a party, someone might bring something to the party.
How many other people has that affected? Absolutely.
Some of the alcohol that we have seized has had ten times
the methanol content in it, which obviously is very dangerous
with people with kidney disease or liver disease.
Across to Cardiff now, where officers fear
thousands of toxic bottles had hit the city shops and bars.
What they uncovered at this factory was more 1920s Chicago
than 21st-century Cardiff.
A complete fake vodka factory.
This was full-scale production of, you know, illegal alcohol.
We're talking 4,000-5,000 litre vats of just raw ethanol.
There were pallets and pallets of these bottles waiting to go out.
We'd understood we'd had information to suggest that HGV wagons had
already left the depot, so I just hate to put a figure on
how many bottles had actually left and been put in circulation.
Scientists discovered they'd faked east European Christoff vodka.
But this had 120 times the legal amount of methanol -
tasteless but deadly.
You can't detect methanol.
It smells very much like ethanol, but the consequences
are that it can make you feel dizzy,
you can have pains in your stomach.
You can actually then become sick.
But if you drink a lot of it in the one go
or over a short period of time,
then you can actually result in respiratory failure
and even blindness.
They're dangerous to the point where a fatality may occur.
The analysis was plain and simple - this is injurious to health.
This is going to hurt people, you need to get it off the streets.
So obviously our efforts were directed in that area.
What you've done is produce a leaflet for the retailers,
based on what we found at the factory,
based on the labelling that we've taken. That's right.
So what sort of numbers were we finding of these labels?
With 5,000 bottles labelled and ready to go,
how many had already hit the streets?
Amazingly, the fast work of scientists
and officers in the field meant no-one was injured.
The gang out to make a fast buck with their dangerous hooch
were never caught.
I'd be foolish to think we'd ended the problem.
We certainly haven't ended the problem
across the counterfeiting piece, if you like.
Why should this be any different?
Even drinking it neat, you're not going to be able to tell.
The only way you're going to know is when you fall ill.
If you ever have any doubt, don't drink it.
Inform Trading Standards, have it tested.
Now, if you think it's just eastern Europeans
and vodka making up this racket, think again.
Southampton docks. Millions of containers come through here,
and today Border Agency Officer Phil Dunn is interested in just one.
Yeah, we've got a container that's showing it's beer
arriving from China. Not renowned as a great producer of lager.
From an importer who we've had some credibility checks done on
and we're not happy about.
We're going to examine the box, see actually what's inside,
then do further checks on the actual contents themselves.
So what's in the box?
Customs seized the equivalent of 9 million pints
of bogus beer last year.
But inside are indeed boxes and boxes of beer. But hold on, Corona?
That's Mexican beer from China?
Phil's suspicious too.
Straight away looking at it,
the quality of the labels looks quite poor.
The packaging as well is very flimsy.
Certainly I haven't seen this in UK supermarkets like that.
Certainly not the quality we expect of what is probably
technically a premium beer.
Certainly not a Mexican beer in from China, either.
The team begin to unload their haul.
We're just taking a few more of the boxes out to see
if the whole container is full of the Corona Extra.
See if there's anything else in there.
Basically see how many are in there, cos if it is counterfeit,
we're going to have to tally up to see how much there is.
We want to see that it is all the way through and it is consistent.
We haven't had a huge amount of counterfeit beer here.
But anything that can be copied will be copied.
It soon becomes clear the whole container is packed to the brim
with a hooky Mexican lager.
Goes all the way to the back of the container,
so it's uniform all the way back.
While the rest of the team tally up,
Phil wants to make some comparisons of his own,
so he heads to a major high street retailer to buy the legitimate item.
Doesn't look good, me on duty.
This is a normal four-pack of Corona Extra beer.
We'll have a look at this
and compare it to what we find within the container.
Back at the port, and Phil compares what he's bought
with what he's seized.
You see the quality is much better in the packaging.
Then we look at the bottles themselves -
they're all at a consistent level compared to these bottles.
The labelling is different.
Also, a lot of the bottles now are carrying this about units,
how many units, alcoholic units.
This looks like it's been done in the factory and properly done.
This one here, we suspect this could be counterfeit Corona.
Phil's concern about the beer isn't just about the way it looks.
Main problem with something like this is towards the public health.
We don't know what's inside these bottles.
People are drinking something where they're not getting
the product they're expecting.
Back outside and the team are finishing their unloading
and the full scale of their haul becomes clear.
There's 28,800 bottles within this container.
For sales value, that's about ?30,000-35,000 worth.
This will get handed over to our team who will take this further.
They'll have contact with the rights holders.
Further checks will be made to see if this is counterfeit or genuine beer.
And since we filmed,
the border agency at Southampton have discovered that the beer
definitely is fake Corona, but the bottles themselves are real.
The fakers just recycled old bottles with their own cheap lager.
Dangerous vodka, knock-off beer. Is nothing sacred any more?
Not in Fake Britain.
Today in Bromley, Kent, officer Rob Vale is following up reports
that fake champagne is being sold on his patch.
If members of the public don't spot that it's a fake,
then they're going to be paying top dollar for what is basically
a ?3 to ?4 bottle of very low alcohol wine.
Intelligence suggests that a man in a white van has sold
various bottles of the bogus bubbly to small shops in the area.
I'm from Trading Standards.
We had an incident of fake Bollinger being sold in the area recently,
so I'm just looking at a few shops in the area to check the stock.
Do you have any Bollinger on your shelves?
The storekeeper has one bottle of Bollinger left.
Where do you get your stock from? BLEEP
Same place all the time?
How long have you had this? It's been there long. Long time.
How many have you got?
That's the only one left.
Yeah? I don't buy too many, nobody buy them.
Cos that's actually a fake bottle.
This one? Yeah. Is it?
If you look at the label, you'll see that it's a very smooth finish.
Yeah, but they keep changing them.
Yeah, but this...this is a laser copy, so... I don't really know...
Do you remember where you got it from? Yeah... BLEEP.
As the bottle is a fake, Rob is suspicious that it could have come
from the white van man who has been selling counterfeits in this area.
So he's going to seize it.
You are taking my property from me without paying me,
it don't make sense.
Well, I am seizing it because it's a fake item.
It's illegal... It's illegal for you to have it on your shelf.
You came in here and you found only one thing
and you're telling me about it.
If I know it's illegal, I won't leave it there.
I know, I'm not saying you've done this on purpose.
How much are you selling it for?
Bollinger is ?34. You have to change it.
No, I'm not... I'm not letting you have the bottle.
I've got to take the bottle. But if you tell me...
Go and get your records, who you bought it from and I'll ring them.
I told you, it's a long time ago.
The shopkeeper's not happy to lose stock,
but Rob is definitely sending this bottle for analysis.
Thank you for your cooperation, it makes it a lot easier.
There is no suggestion the shopkeeper had any idea it was a fake.
The main indicator is this very cheap-looking label.
This bottle was sent back to the manufacturer,
who confirmed it was counterfeit.
Getting it off the shelves will have saved one shopper from wasting ?30.
But across the country, fake champagne is big business.
Remember that fake vodka truck
and the investigator's shock at what it was capable of producing?
It's not just one bottle every five minutes,
it's eight bottles every ten seconds.
The eastern Europeans that ran this are still on the run,
but it was a British gang that ran the biggest racket uncovered so far.
Outside court in London, their run is about to come to an end.
Jeff Hall and Steve Davis are part of a network that churned out
fake vodka for over a year in the middle of London.
More than 1.3 million bottles were sold and never recovered.
The public would have had no way of knowing
when they bought that vodka that it was fake.
The packaging was to such good quality
that anybody would have bought that
and not realised they were buying counterfeit vodka.
Polish workers were housed above the machinery to run the 24/7 operation.
Things were going so well, this video shows them
taking delivery of machinery for a new sideline - counterfeit tobacco.
Costing over ?100,000,
the plan was for this machine to churn out 100 pouches a minute.
They had nine tonnes ready for the market,
but behind this video camera was a customs officer.
As soon as we found out about the alcohol factory, we closed it down.
But that led on to a long-term surveillance operation
against some of the main targets that we identified,
and that directly led to us identifying the tobacco factory.
That enabled us to close it down before they were able to sell
any of their product.
The amount of money these people could make was enormous.
We estimate that in just one year,
they sold vodka which cost the taxpayer ?18 million.
It's a huge sum that would have gone towards health, education, etc.
A last breath of freedom as these guys await sentencing,
but where's all the fake stuff being sold?
In Liverpool, customs officers are gobsmacked by the shops
who think they can get away with selling fake booze and fags.
There's a fair amount of stock in here, isn't there?
Yeah, there's more in here as well.
Got a dozen bottles of Smirnoff here.
There's more just about everywhere. They even sleep with it.
There are telltale signs with regard to tag stamps.
For example, this one in particular.
The legitimate duty tax stamp peels off,
which indicates it's an non-legitimate product.
So therefore it gives us the right to seize it.
There's whisky or vodka.
Officers are acting on a tip-off from rival stores
being undercut by this place's fake fags and booze.
Oh, here we go.
These are non-legitimate.
They're not legitimate UK-manufactured cigarettes.
10,000. So we've got 20,000 cigarettes so far.
Turns out there's more to this shop than its sign claims.
I would estimate there's about 100 cases of vodka, 100 cases of whisky.
It's completely disproportionate to the size of this little corner shop.
It just isn't credible for the amount of business that he'll do.
The gentleman's just said that he's selling it for about ?11.99,
which is a counterfeit product.
Shamelessly, this shop charges almost full price for fakes.
That allows them to pocket an extra ?8.50 on every single bottle
because they've paid no duty.
It's unregulated. We don't know what's in it.
This will be seized and taken to a warehouse. It will be destroyed.
Ordinary people are getting fed up with criminals trying to undercut
legitimate trade and trying to fiddle the taxpayer, at the end of the day.
Back in London, it's the end of a long run for the gang
that's churned out over a million bottles of fake vodka.
They're about to get some rest.
Both are sentenced to ten years behind bars.
So does all fake booze come from dodgy white vans and corner shops?
Believe it or not, this is a bottle of fake wine and it was
purchased from a major supermarket in an ordinary high street.
Clacton-on-Sea on the windy coast of Essex.
With its pier and beach, it was once
a top holiday destination for tens of thousands.
It's perhaps the last place you would think of for fake wine.
David McGowan likes his wine and knows a bit about it.
He went into his local Tesco in Clacton
and bought a couple of bottles
of the classy French wine Pouilly-Fuisse.
But when he got it home and drank it, he was in for a surprise.
I opened it up expecting it to be a dry French wine.
I'm no expert,
but I can tell a decent French dry wine to a cheap and sweet wine.
Daniel was convinced that what was on the label
was not the wine in the bottle.
Purchasing it from Tescos, couldn't have thought that anything...
a counterfeit wine could have been sold.
Next day he took the bottles back to the supermarket to complain.
He was offered a refund.
I declined and I just really asked for someone from Tescos
to speak to me, cos I felt that that wasn't right.
Tescos really shouldn't be, you know...
Someone needed to explain the reasons why there was...
what was in the bottle wasn't what it was actually supposed to be.
I received a letter from Tescos saying that it was going to be...
or it was nothing to do with them
and it was in the hands of their wine distribution company.
I've had a conversation with the wine distribution company,
who reimbursed me with two bottles
of the actual wine that it should have been and a bottle of champagne.
But apart from that, there has been nothing more from Tescos
on this matter or anything else.
Tesco point out that this is the only time
that this has ever happened in one of their stores.
But two questions remain - just what was in the bottle
and how did it get there?
Daniel's brought it along to a top wine expert in London
for some answers.
This label, it's the wrong texture. The label is just cheap and nasty.
It should be a lot better than that. Well... It looks pure filth.
Let's see what it tastes like.
Have a try.
You see it smells completely different.
A - there's hardly nay nose on that.
It's sweet. It's probably German and it's probably not very good German.
So it's German, cheap and definitely not Pouilly-Fuisse.
But how did it get on Tesco's shelves?
Tom thinks the distributors were conned by the fakers.
It's the most common fraud around at the moment.
People buy a batch of really cheap wine,
get some labels printed off, stick it on, then just try and sneak it
into the supply chain of a big company, like they've tried here.
Having said that,
again the people that bought it probably didn't taste this wine.
The way it normally works, from what I can work out,
is that if you place an...if you ask for samples of wine,
you get the genuine article, but the fake stuff then gets
slipped into the supply chain and hopefully gets lost in there.
So it's really hard to trace it back.
For Daniel, it's a relief to have the experts agree
that his suspicions were correct.
The reason why I wrote in and went to see Tescos, it's proved it's true.
Tesco believe that only nine bottles of the fake wine
were ever in their stores, but Tom thinks there's a reason why
we don't hear more about wine frauds.
An awful lot of times, I think people just taste it,
"I don't like that wine. Throw it away."
Even if it's at the top end, they very rarely think
they've been defrauded, they just think they don't like the wine.
A final visit now to those hunting down that bogus Bolly.
Cheap plonk, even fruit juice bagged up as 35-quid-a-bottle champers.
Trading Standards in Wandsworth, south-west London,
have saved local drinkers hundreds by seizing the fakes.
We've seized bottles of counterfeit Bollinger
that we found in various off-licences in the borough.
We've submitted them to the agents acting for Bollinger,
and they've identified them as cheap sparkling wine.
These would have been sold at or very close to the correct price
of what you'd expect to pay.
I think the small bottles were ?35 and the bigger bottles,
the big one-and-a-half litre bottles, were ?80.
There's no question that these were being passed off as the real thing.
If you bought a few bottles of this stuff,
you'd be seriously out of pocket.
But there are a few pointers on what to watch out for.
This is a genuine one.
As you can see, the price that this was sold for, ?34.99,
which is about the same price as the counterfeit ones we seized.
If you compare the genuine one here to the counterfeit one,
if you look very closely, you can actually see the difference.
The labels at the top here, the Bollinger is embossed,
slightly embossed on the genuine one,
as is the red label.
Bollinger's embossed on there, where it's all flat.
I suspect the average purchaser wouldn't notice.
It's another destruction day for Trading Standards.
Name your drink - all straight down the drain.
But as we've seen, when it comes to fake booze, you're lucky
if it's only your taste buds and pockets taking the hit.
Elsewhere, a much higher cost is being counted
and we are all the target.
So it seems if you can drink it, they can fake it.
One thing's for certain -
the fight against bogus booze has become deadly serious.
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