UK men jailed in counterfeit vodka case

Arctic Ice bottle in warehouseThree UK men who used industrial alcohol to make counterfeit vodka that could kill were sentenced to jail terms today.

The illegal alcohol manufacturing and bottling plant in Birmingham city centre was uncovered by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers in a 2011 raid on a warehouse in Brewery Street, which resulted in the seizure of more than 2,500 litres of fake vodka branded as Arctic Ice.

Forensic analysis of the counterfeit vodka showed it contained dangerous levels of methanol, which could cause "nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, blindness, kidney or liver problems, coma or death," according to the HMRC.

At the time the raid was carried out there were reports that two people had experienced adverse reactions after consuming the vodka, said an HMRC spokesperson, but it has been hard to identify any other potential victims in the case.

The potential for harm cannot be understated, however, given the recent case in the Czech Republic in which fake alcohol caused at least 25 deaths, as well as a fatality involving a man from Worthing in the UK who drank fake Glen's Vodka last November.

Meanwhile, a value for the haul has not been published, although the HMRC did say the counterfeits had the potential to cost the UK nearly £500,000 ($790,000) in lost revenue.

The illegal manufacturing plant was capable of producing "vast quantities" of the fake vodka, it said. There have reports of the bootleg Arctic Ice product being found across the UK, although it is thought that most of the gang's distribution network centred on the West and East Midlands.

Along with the counterfeit bottles, enforcement officers seized 13 thousand-litre plastic industrial bulk containers (IBCs) - three of which held 96 per cent concentration industrial alcohol - as well as 67,500 bottle caps, 8,400 empty 70cl bottles and a labelling machine.

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.

"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," said Adrian Farley, assistant director of criminal investigation at the HMRC.

"They were fully aware that the counterfeit vodka, which contained dangerous levels of methanol, was unfit to drink," he added.

The three men - pictured below - pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges. Michael Woodlock (52) of West Bromwich   was sentenced to 12 months in prison, while accomplices Gavin Berrow (42) and Alex Dean Rollason (21) received four-month suspended sentences and were ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work.

Berrow, Rollason and Woodlock
The HMRC spokesperson told that the three were unlikely to have been senior figures in the criminal network involved in the counterfeit vodka production, and it is feasible that production is continuing elsewhere.

She also called for businesses who rent out industrial units to be vigilant about the activities of their tenants.

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