A Salford company which sold counterfeit and dangerous goods has been fined £46,500 for putting consumers at risk.
More than 10,000 counterfeit vaping liquids, over 9,000 counterfeit Apple phone accessories, 800 unsafe Christmas fairy lights – some of which had bare wires exposed and two pin, unearthed plugs, and more than 400 counterfeit games and non-compliant toys were seized over a 10 month period from Aulola UK Ltd, based in Broughton Lane, Salford.
In total more than 24,000 non-compliant products were seized from the business. The company operated as an importer, producer, distributor and a fulfilment house.
Magistrates were told that the company, which claimed it was just a fulfilment house, distributing goods on behalf of other businesses, did not know what it was distributing, failed in its legal responsibilities to ensure the goods were legal and safe and negligent when it came to public safety.
During the investigation the company representative suggested the firm should be offered a formal caution to avoid the risk of the company going into bankruptcy. The company would ‘galvanise’ itself into more strict due diligence, and change the business model to comply with the law and protect consumer safety.
During the hearing at Manchester and Salford magistrates court on Thursday 24 March a representative of the company pleaded guilty to 18 offences relating to two offences of applying trade marks without consent and eight offences for possessing counterfeit goods, contrary to the Trade Marks Act 1994. The company was also found guilty of eight offences of placing unsafe electrical equipment on the market contrary to the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016.
The company was fined £46,500 and was also ordered to pay £9,400 costs and a £190 victim surcharge. Forfeiture orders were made on all the goods seized – estimated to be worth around £270,000.
The court heard that trading standards officers, police, HMRC officials and brand representatives visited the company’s premises on 16 December 2019. This followed complaints that a customer had received an electric shock from unsafe Christmas lights, and a cease and desist letter to the company from another firm regarding counterfeit products.
Suspected counterfeit items were seized from the e-liquid shop and storage area where staff were fulfilling orders. Officers had to open the packages to find out what was inside and were told the goods arrived from China in that format.
On Christmas Eve the officers returned and seized more non-compliant products, suspected of infringing registered designs.
On 30 January 2020 officers visited again regarding counterfeit tobacco flavoured products. The company had ceased to sell several brands and no further action was taken.
The LED lights seized in December 2019 failed safety testing and e-liquid and Apple products seized breached registered trade marks. LED lights were still listed for sale on the company website in October 2020, though the company told trading standards officers they no longer sold them and the website needed updating.
On 8 October officers attended the premises and seized unsafe and counterfeit UL LED lights. UL is a global safety certification company. Unsafe travel adaptors and other counterfeit items, some of which were similar to those seized in December 2019, were also seized.
During interviews company representative Ms Leah Zhao said the company did not know what products they were sent from China, could not explain the links between the company and firms in China and provided test certificates said to be related to some of the seized products. Officers were unable to see a direct link between the certificates provided and products seized.
Speaking after the case Councillor David Lancaster, lead member for environment and community safety, said: “This is one of the biggest fines we have seen handed to a company we have prosecuted for illegal and unsafe trading and I very much welcome it.
“I hope it sends a clear message that those who peddle counterfeit and unsafe items and put profit before safety will not be tolerated in Salford.”