Criminal gangs behind illegal alcohol trade in London

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Media captionA BBC Inside Out London investigation has uncovered criminal gangs distilling and selling potentially fatal alcohol across London

Criminal gangs are producing potentially lethal alcohol and selling it in the capital, a BBC investigation has discovered.

BBC London's Inside Out infiltrated two groups, one of which was targeting rough sleepers and illegal immigrants with unregulated alcohol.

One illegal still in west London said it was making £500 a month in sales.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said the production of illegal alcohol was a "dangerous activity".

The BBC London investigation found eight illegal distilleries in London and was alerted to four more.

The gangs often operate their distilleries in the back streets of deprived areas.

Kostaz, from Romania, who manages a still in Southall, said: "Where I come from, this is not against the law.

"You can make rum and sell it if you want. So we are just bringing the tradition here."

Image caption Harry said doctors had advised him to stop drinking illegally-produced alcohol

In the UK it is unlawful to distil and sell alcohol without a proper licence.

HMRC said chemicals used in anti-freeze and screen wash had been discovered in some counterfeit spirits.

In a statement, HMRC said: "The public health implications of counterfeit spirits are significant, and production of illicit alcohol is clearly a very dangerous activity.

"As a result, there is a risk that drinking counterfeit spirit can lead to permanent blindness, liver failure, kidney failure and can ultimately lead to death."

However, the operators of the illegal stills were from countries where regulations are less strict.

Alcohol addiction

Some of the illegal distilleries can produce several litres of whisky, vodka and rum a day, costing as little as three pounds.

Harry, an illegal immigrant, has been buying illegal alcohol for more than a year and said he was addicted.

He said: "Those guys lured me in with cheap whisky and now I am addicted and seriously ill.

Image caption Dr James Barker, from Kingston University, said illegal alcohol could lead to significant health effects

"The doctors have told me that unless I stop, my future is going to hell."

Dr James Barker, from Kingston University's School of Pharmacy and Chemistry, analysed a sample of the illegal alcohol and said it could be toxic.

"People buying this don't know what they are letting themselves in for," said Dr Barker. "If you drink too much of this stuff, you may never wake up."

Some names and details have been changed to protect identities.

BBC Inside Out London is on BBC One in the London region on Monday, 9 February at 19:30 GMT and nationwide on the iPlayer for 28 days thereafter.

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