During their trial at Birmingham Crown Court last week (January 24), all three men pleaded guilty to charges of Fraudulent Evasion of Excise Duty Contrary to the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
Michael Woodlock, 52, was jailed for 12 months. Gavin Berrow, 42, and Alex Dean Rollason, 20, were both jailed for four months. Berrow and Rollason’s sentences were suspended for 12 months, and both were ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
All the men were from the West Midlands.
Their illegal alcohol manufacturing and bottling plant was discovered by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers during a raid of an industrial unit at Birmingham City Centre. The raid took place six days after five men were killed in an explosion at an illicit vodka distillery in Boston, Lincolnshire on July 13 2011.
‘Coma or death’
A statement from the HMRC said: “Forensic analysis of the counterfeit vodka 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.”
A spokeswoman for the HMRC told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Local trading standards officers have discovered the vodka for sale in independent stores across the West Midlands. One of these stores, in Staffordshire, has now had its licence revoked.”
Director of criminal investigation for HMRC, Adam Farley, 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, with the potential of costing the UK taxpayer almost £500,000 in lost revenue.
High risk of explosion
“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.”
HMRC criminal investigators seized the following items from the illegal distillery:
- More than 2,500l of counterfeit vodka branded as ‘Arctic Ice’
- 13 1,000l plastic industrial bulk containers – three of which contained industrial alcohol of 96%
- 67,500 bottle caps
- 8,400 empty glass 70cl bottles
- a labelling machine and other paraphernalia relating to the production of illegal alcohol
Trading Standards officers have also made seizures on stores in Birmingham, Hereford, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcester. Separate prosecutions are ongoing.