Illegal vodka plant uncovered on farm

An illegal vodka plant uncovered on a remote farm has highlighted the need for vigilance when letting out unused rural buildings.

The sixth and final member of a gang was jailed for two years on Monday (9 January) for his involvement in a conspiracy to manufacture fake vodka at Moscow Farm, near Great Dalby Leicestershire.

Wojciech Jan Herbst, from Poland, was described as the “chemist” at the centre of the scam. Five other men were sentenced last autumn for their role in the plot, following an investigation by customs officers.

An industrial unit on the farm was used to make denatured alcohol (methylated spirits) clear before it was diluted and bottled and passed off as genuine vodka. In fact, forensic analysis showed it was unfit for human consumption.

Criminal investigator Simon De Kayne said: “This was a substantial production, bottling and distribution plant on an industrial scale. His gang would have known they were putting this highly toxic product into a bottle for human consumption.”

The unregulated and fire hazardous industrial unit was uncovered during raid in September 2009. Some 9000 bottles of fake vodka were seized, along with manufacturing equipment, bottles and counterfeit packaging.

Evidence showed around 165,000 bottles of the fake vodka – marketed as Glen’s – had been distributed across the UK for sale. A further 25,000 litres of pure denatured alcohol were seized – enough to make 100,000 bottles of vodka.

The owner of the farm declined to comment. But solicitor Roger Tetlow, senior legal adviser at the Country Land and Business Association, said a landlord would not normally be responsible for any illegal activities carried out by a tenant.

Even so landowners could take steps to minimise the risks when renting out farm buildings. “The most obvious step would be to make regular inspections of the premises and keep an eye generally on movements in the vicinity of them and the nature of deliveries to and from the premises.”

Mr Tetlow added: “A well written lease will normally provide a right for the landlord to make inspections and view the condition of the premises but usually on the giving of reasonable notice, except in the case of emergency.”

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