Private investigators hired by Unilever foiled a plot by a conman who imported cheap washing powder from China to pass-off as Persil, a court heard this week.

Unilever received a confidential tip-off about the supposed scam, when carpet trader Richard Brayford allegedly shipped 25 tons of fake detergent from China to sell in the UK.

He and five plotters – who have already pleaded guilty to the same charge – intended to sell the powder for up to 15 times what they paid, the court heard.

The detergent was taken from Felixstowe to a warehouse in Cheshire, where it was to be packed into fake boxes, said Peter Moss, prosecuting.

The warehouse unit was raided in September 2008, as the gang prepared to pack the powder into replica Persil boxes.

Brayford denies the charges.