The ‘fake trade’ run by gangs where exploited workers escape via tunnels and leave shoppers trapped behind shutters

1 March 2023, 08:04 | Updated: 1 March 2023, 08:55

The set of shops in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, has been described as the  'Counterfeit Capital of Europe'
The set of shops in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, has been described as the 'Counterfeit Capital of Europe'. Picture: LBC

By Lizzie Longley

The 'Counterfeit Capital of Europe', where shoppers risk violence, sexual assault and captivity, has been reduced to a handful of half-empty shops after a massive police crackdown, an LBC investigation has found.

For decades, Cheetham Hill in Manchester has been an epicentre of organised crime.

Shops on these few streets are responsible for half of the £8.6 billion worth of counterfeit goods seized across the UK every year.

There are cabinets full of perfume, watches, headphones, jewellery - all with familiar labels - but they have been superglued on in nearby illegal factories by exploited workers.

Police in Cheetham Hill, Manchester
Police in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. Picture: LBC

The vape-trade has become enormous in this area and can be a front for money laundering.

DS Neil Blackwood told LBC: "We've had people knocked unconscious in the shop by shopkeepers, sexually assaulted, there's running battles in the streets with people with knives."

This is common practice on these streets as gangs wield their power and intimidate bargain hunters.

Read More: Husband of Epsom College head Emma Pattison who killed her and their young daughter 'took his own life with shotgun'

Read More: How the 54-day hunt for missing aristocrat Constance Marten and her sex offender partner unfolded

It is not unusual to see these shops being shut down at a moment’s notice.

A network of 'spotters' will alert the gangs to the presence of the police and that will result in the shutters being pulled down and workers disappearing down hidden tunnels to get away.

All the while, shoppers are trapped inside and have no way of escaping until they are freed by authorities.

As we carried out a raid on one of the shops, DCI Jen Kelly told LBC: "Customers are being intimidated with weapons, to keep quiet, not to shout and not to raise people's attentions. People take risks when they come here.

"We're finding weapons easy to hand. Behind the doors, under the counters, and they're really intimidating organised crime groups, locking people in for significant periods of time.

Counterfeit goods are sold inside the stores
Counterfeit goods are sold inside the stores. Picture: LBC

"There's no fire escapes, no toilet facilities, no means of getting out if you have a medical episode, or you need to pick your kids up from school. They will not let you out for fear of being arrested by police.

"In the next road to here, a month ago, we freed a small five year old child who had been locked inside a shop by these criminals with a lot of other customers.

"The child was petrified. We freed him and his dad. He was five years old, absolutely scared to death.

LBC joins police raid on 'counterfeit capital' in Liverpool

"This is the risk people are willing to accept and, you've got violence, sexual assault, they'll trap you inside.

"There's a lot of trapdoors, tunnels, emergency exits so they can get in and out."

DS Neil Blackwood added: "It is entirely unsafe, not complying with building regs or fire regs, anything like that. If you're locked in here with the front door shut, you're entering a death trap.

"They (the gangs) will know we're here. They'll have internal CCTV, they've got the alarms, they've got a spotter network making calls, they've got a WhatsApp group."

DS Neil Blackwood
DS Neil Blackwood. Picture: LBC

Inside the shop there is a lot of stock in boxes - the owners knew it was only a matter of time before the police shut them down. Instead the product will move online to be sold there instead.

Within the four buildings raided, police uncovered 12 separate shops and seized 20 tonnes of counterfeit goods and hundreds of illegal vapes.

When Greater Manchester Police’s Operation Vulcan began last November, there were 206 counterfeit shops. Now there are believed to be fewer than 10.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has reached a plea deal.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not be extradited to US after reaching plea deal

Princess Anne is reportedly unable to remember what happened due to the nature of the injury.

Princess Anne ‘unable to recall exactly what happened’ after being ‘hit by horse’ as she faces several days in hospital

England have qualified for the last 16 at Euro 2024.

England qualify for last 16 at Euro 2024 after Spain beat Albania

Rishi Sunak criticised Labour's proposed plans to tackle migration rates in the UK.

UK would be ‘illegal migration capital of world’ under Labour, Sunak says as he sets out plans to ‘stop the boats’

Labour has made cutting knife crime a 'moral mission' should the party come to power

Labour makes cutting knife crime a 'moral mission' as Starmer proposes new child criminal exploitation offence

Spanish police are investigating if Jay's 'background' is relevant to the disappearance.

Spanish police searching for Jay Slater investigate if teenager’s background is ‘relevant’ to his disappearance

Lord Kinnock has said he would not wish being part of the current Tory government on his 'most bloodthirsty enemies'.

‘I wish I was fighting this lot’, ex-Labour leader Lord Kinnock says as he brands current Tory party 'superficial'

The president of Finland has said he 'doesn't agree with many things' Nigel Farage says in response to his comments on the war in Ukraine.

'Absolutely not': Finland's president dismisses Nigel Farage’s claim that Nato provoked Russia's war in Ukraine

A man went missing in the water off Bournemouth beach (file image)

Huge search operation launched for man missing in water off Bournemouth beach

Bosses face £1,000 fine for letting employees watch England's Euros clash with Denmark in the office

Offices showing England v Slovenia Euros clash could face hefty £1,000 fine

Princess Anne has been injured by a horse

King Charles sends 'fondest love’ to Princess Anne who will ‘quickly bounce back’ after being hit by horse

Callum the stag was "humanely euthanised".

Tourists blamed for death of 'legendary' stag after it was fed Rice Krispies and croissants

The Reform UK leader's comments came as he spoke to supporters at a rally in Kent on Tuesday, slamming the current government's ability to control immigration.

Farage warns of Channel migrant 'invasion' from countries 'with terrorism, gang culture and war zones'

Gavin Plumb is accused of plotting to kidnap Holly Willoughby

Obsessed security guard ‘plotted to keep Holly Willoughby in dungeon where screams couldn't be heard for miles'

At least two people have died in the fire

At least two dead as Moscow defence research centre bursts into flames ‘with staff trapped inside’

Parisians along River Seine, below Cathedral Notre Dame celebrate Fête de la Musique - annual city-wide music festival each June

British woman 'gang-raped in Paris at music festival'