THE most senior judge in Worcester warns he will send criminals to prison after learning that the nearest jail is now 'Covid-free'.

Judge James Burbidge QC, the Recorder of Worcester, made the warning at Worcester Crown Court on Friday as a tobacco seller who sold counterfeit cigarettes said he feared catching the disease and dying in prison.

Tarik Dosky, a diabetic shop worker, was prepared to put his customers at risk by selling the cigarettes but feared the impact on his own health were he sent to jail, telling the judge 'I might get corona' and 'doctors advised me - if you get coronavirus it's 70 to 80 per cent you might pass away'.

Prisoners have been under lockdown in their cells for 23 hours because of Covid-19 but the judge said he had been told by the governor of HMP Hewell that the prison was Covid-free, was allowing visits and that the 'circumstances are better than a while back'.

Judges can take into account the adverse impact of coronavirus on prisoners and on the prison regime when sentencing with many defence barristers citing the case of Manning.

Judge Burbidge said: "I spoke to the governor of Hewell this very week and he tells there are no problems with Covid in the prison presently. This means they started to open the prison to visiting. In one sense I'm satisfied you can be immediately locked up without risk to your health."

Tarik Dosky admitted nine counts involving the sale of illicit tobacco products from a store in Hereford called Lawand Store and which previously operated under the name of 'International Food Store Ltd.

The 54-year-old of Thornhill Road, Handsworth had been sole director of the company and had previously been prosecuted for selling illegal tobacco products.

On three occasions between October 21 and November 6 last year the undercover police officers were able to purchase six packets of counterfeit Richmond cigarettes as part of a trading standards sting.

Dean Hulse, prosecuting the matter on behalf of Herefordshire Council, said during the first two occasions Dosky obtained tobacco from the rear of the store, what the judge called 'a secret stash'.

Trading standards officers returned to the store on November 9 last year when Dosky did not serve them but would have known there were counterfeit goods on the premises.

Dosky was sentenced to 10 months in prison in December 2018 for similar offences from he same shop.

Edward Hetherington, defending, said when Dosky was jailed in December 2018 he had been the owner of the shop but, when he was imprisoned, sold the shop but continued to work there upon his release.

Judge James Burbidge QC said: "Essentially you were supplying tobacco products in breach of packaging regulations which included the fact they did not contain health warnings or appropriate registered trademarks. The reason you did that was for financial gain."

He described the store as 'well known to trading standards' and the defendant as a man who is 'prepared to breach the law' and with minimal prospect of rehabilitation.

"From looking at the previous case, you had created the back storeroom to hide such goods as this" the judge said.

He added: "The council engaged in test purchasing products from the store on three occasions and on each occasion you produced, on request for purchase, counterfeit cigarettes that can put the health of individuals at risk."

Judge Burbidge accepted that Dosky was no longer the owner of the shop and was less culpable that he had been on the previous occasion when he was jailed.

However, he also said these offences were aggravated because he had previous convictions for similar offences and a prison sentence had failed to deter him.

The judge sentenced him to 10 months in prison suspended for two years and placed him on a four month electronically monitored curfew between 9pm and 6am.

He made an order excluding Dosky from Herefordshire and Worcestershire for two years and ordered him to make a contribution to costs of £250.

As part of the same operation Dosky's co-defendant Majid Mohammed, 45, of Gladstone Street, Peterborough admitted he supplied 'illicit white cigarettes' which did not comply with the packaging regulations on August 10 and November 9 last year.

In total 495 packets of illegal cigarettes were identified and 96 pouches of hand rolling tobacco on November 9 last year. Mohammed had no previous convictions and was 'acting under direction'.

He was made subject to a community order for 12 months and was placed on an electronically monitored curfew between 9pm and 5am for three months. He was also ordered to pay £800 towards costs.