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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 12:43 GMT
Customs 'unfair' to day-trippers
A Customs officer at Dover
The UK's Customs and Excise takes an over-zealous attitude to people bringing back booze from the continent, according to the European Commission.

The Commission and ferry companies have been angered by Customs seizing the vehicles of "booze cruisers" accused of minor infringements.

Jonathan Todd European Commission spokesman said Customs confiscation of cars was "disproportionate".

The government said Customs and Excise was acting within UK and EU law.


Speaking to the BBC, Mr Todd highlighted the harsh treatment meted out to booze cruisers bringing alcohol back from the continent for friends.

Our approach has been tested and backed by the British courts... only after the third offence will we seize and hold cars
John Healy MP
Under UK law alcohol and cigarettes brought back from the continent are meant for personal use. Any resale, even to friends and family, is forbidden.

Breaking the law can result in people having their goods confiscated or having to pay a fine.

In some cases people who have been accused of smuggling have had their cars impounded and even crushed.

"We think it is disproportionate if, for example, the person after they have paid a fine has their cars confiscated," Mr Todd said.

But the government minister responsible for Customs and Excise, John Healy MP, accused the European Commission of courting publicity in the run-up to Christmas - a time when booze cruising reaches its height.

"We get used to them raising these issues in the run up to Christmas and getting a day of good publicity," Mr Healy said.

"Our approach has been tested and backed by the British courts. Only after the third offence will we seize and hold cars."

In August, ferry company Hoverspeed announced plans to sue Customs and Excise for up to 30m, accusing it of putting people off crossing the Channel.

At the time a Hoverspeed spokesman told the BBC the firm was acting to protect the rights of the travelling public.

It said the campaign against alcohol and tobacco smuggling has targeted too many people on innocent shopping trips.

Have you fallen foul of Customs and Excise on returning from the continent? Please send us your comments.

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