Drinkers need to be wary of counterfeit alcohol

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Drinkers need to be wary of counterfeit alcohol

22nd July 2011

A defective product specialist has expressed his alarm over the growing problem of highly toxic counterfeit alcohol being produced and sold in the UK.

“The illegally made drink currently being produced on a worryingly large scale in the UK is extremely dangerous,” said Sam Harmel, a partner with Fentons Solicitors LLP. “Those involved with the widespread production and distribution of counterfeit alcohol have no concerns whatsoever as to the health and well-being of their customers. Their primary aim is to make money.

“On top of the heath risk, alcohol fraud is currently costing the UK around £1bn a year in lost revenue according to government estimates,” he said. “The scale of the problem continues to grow with up to a quarter of licensed premises in some parts of the UK openly selling counterfeit beer, wine and spirits.”

Chemicals used in cleaning fluids and screen wash are being found in counterfeit beer and wine up and down the country, while high levels of methanol and the industrial solvent isopropanol - used in anti-freeze products and some fuels - are being found in illegally made spirits.

“It is important to question whether ingesting these types of chemicals is really something people want to be doing to have a good time,” said Sam. “Fake booze can lead to liver and kidney failure, severe abdominal pains, permanent blindness and ultimately death. By consuming these fake alcohol brands openly sold in shops, bars and clubs across the country, drinkers are putting their lives at risk. It really is that simple.”

Accident and Emergency departments are seeing a growing number of patients being admitted believing their drinks have been spiked. But in many of these cases the reality is that they are merely victims of counterfeit alcohol.

“This is not a case of a few amateur home-brewers creating bottles of fake booze in their cellars and garden sheds to sell to unscrupulous off-licences,” said Sam. “This is highly sophisticated international fraud, involving organised criminal gangs setting up factories and producing counterfeit alcohol on an industrial scale, bottling and labelling their products and distributing them across the UK and Europe.

“Frustratingly, it is often difficult to spot counterfeit brands,” added Sam. “Trading standards officers have however warned that there are a number of clues customers can look out for. They recommend checking for spelling mistakes on labelling, checking labels are straight, ensuring fill levels in bottles are consistent and looking at whether all cans or bottles of the same product look the same. Another seemingly obvious method recommended is testing for smell as counterfeit vodka for example, is known to often smell strongly of acetone, similar to nail varnish.

“Most of us have experienced legitimate alcohol getting the better of us – and that was properly manufactured under tightly controlled conditions,” continued Sam. “The consequences of drinking something produced in a backroom distillery by someone entirely comfortable with adding chemicals more commonly used to de-ice your car windscreen, are clear.”

How can Fentons help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of defective products. If you or a family member has suffered an injury that was not your fault, you could be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Read more: Sky