Two Bishop Auckland women have avoided jail after police seized a huge haul of counterfeit designer trainers worth more than £188,000.
Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court heard that 44-year-old Joanne McKimm and 25-year old Sarah Bell handled fake designer goods worth tens of thousands of pounds
An investigation by Durham County Council's Trading Standards team found that McKimm, of Yorkshire Place, Bishop Auckland and Bell, of Farm Close, Bishop Auckland, took delivery of thousands of pairs of counterfeit trainers between April 2018 and October 2019.
The pair's actions were uncovered after an investigation in April 2019 by Leicestershire County Council's Trading Standards team, which showed deliveries of counterfeit trainers were being sent from China to Bishop Auckland.
In October 2019, Durham Trading Standards officers issued warrants at the recipient addresses – including McKimm’s and Bell’s - and discovered that the pair had signed for 38 boxes.
Officers also found unpackaged trainers at McKimm’s address, which suggested that she was aware of the boxes’ contents, as well as a small number of counterfeit clothing items.
Whilst officers were visiting McKimm’s address, a courier arrived to collect the boxes. He was arrested and confirmed that he had been asked to collect the boxes from Bishop Auckland and transport them to Manchester.
In the following days, trading standards were notified by the delivery company UPS that further parcels were heading for the same addresses in Bishop Auckland.
The shipments were intercepted by officers and a total of 63 boxes, containing an estimated 1,500 pairs of counterfeit trainers, were seized.
The street value of the counterfeit goods was estimated to be between £39,375 and £78,750.
However, with genuine designer trainers selling for £119.95, the estimated retail value of the trainers seized came to £188,921.25.
During the investigation, Bell’s mobile phones were seized. Police found that they contained Facebook and WhatsApp messages between her and McKimm which suggested they were involved in selling goods; this included photographs of counterfeit tracksuits and trainers, a discussion about setting up a fake Facebook account and plans to travel to Manchester to buy trademarked goods.
The phone also linked both Bell and McKimm to a Facebook profile, which had been used to advertise trainers matching the description of those seized for sale at a price which indicated that they are likely to have been counterfeit.
McKimm’s MacBook was also seized and shown to contain numerous Facebook messages from a man whose name matched that given by the courier on the date of the original seizures.
Delivery records from delivery company DHL showed that, between April 2018 and October 2019, there had been 225 shipments addressed to McKimm’s and other properties, with some confirmed as coming from Hong Kong or China and containing shoes.
Fake recipient names had been used but the parcels had been signed for by McKimm and Bell.
When interviewed under caution, McKimm and Bell both denied being involved with counterfeit goods but stated that they were asked by McKimm’s friend in Manchester to accept the parcels.
Both denied knowing what was in the boxes and said that they had never received any form of benefit, financial or otherwise from the parcels.
The pair pleaded guilty to one charge each under the Trade Marks Act 1992.
The court heard that neither McKimm or Bell had any previous convictions, were previously of good character, and had shown genuine remorse for their actions.
McKimm received a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to undertake 80 hours of unpaid work. She was also instructed to pay a £128 victim surcharge and a £500 contribution towards costs.
Bell received a lesser sentence, as she was unaware what was in the boxes. She was ordered to undertake 80 hours of unpaid work and to pay a £128 victim surcharge and a £500 contribution towards costs.
The seized goods were destroyed.
Joanne Waller, head of community protection services at Durham County Council, said: “We are pleased with the magistrates’ decision to sentence McKimm and Bell to community work on top of the costs which must be paid. Hopefully this case will deter illicit traders who think they can make easy money by ripping off consumers with illegal counterfeits.
“Our Trading Standards team will always seek to protect consumers from fraudulent goods and to protect legitimate businesses."