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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
'Customs seized my car'
Michael Stone
Mr Stone's car was 'disposed of'

The European Commission is taking legal action against Britain over its harsh treatment of cross-Channel shoppers.

Michael Stone, 46, from Kings Lynn, Norfolk had his car, an eight-year-old Ford Granada Scorpio, and cigarettes seized by Customs.

He won his court case and compensation but says the experience still makes him angry.

I was coming back from Ostend, Belgium, to Dover on 9 April 2001, on the ferry.

I had 5,000 cigarettes, about 300 worth - a six-month supply for me and my partner, about 25-a-day each.

They saw the goods in my boot, questioned me about them and decided to seize them because they weren't convinced I wasn't going to sell them.

'They just laughed'

They were just looking to seize - I had no record. They said I could walk away or make a statement, which I made.

I said I was going to appeal, but they just laughed - they found it quite funny.

I didn't believe that he was going to seize the vehicle, but that's what he did.

I was very angry - immediately I was faced with a 250-mile journey to get home and I needed the car for work.

How can somebody find you guilty of an offence and punish you with no court appearance or anything?
Michael Stone

I didn't intend to go out and buy a new car but I had to get one very quickly.

I knew I had done nothing wrong. How can somebody find you guilty of an offence and punish you with no court appearance or anything? It's an injustice that one person can say you are guilty.

It's up to you to appeal and the onus of proof is on you.

It took nearly a year to come to court.

My case was heard in Dover magistrates court in January 2002. I won. They appealed and took it to crown court in Canterbury. I won.

I fought the case myself, it was daunting and I made lots of mistakes. At crown court I was questioned for more than two hours. It was difficult - this is why most people who have their goods seized would never appeal.

But my car had been disposed of - they felt they would never lose a case.

I have travelled over but only brought back the minimum of goods - I just don't want any more trouble
Michael Stone

I took out an action in the small claims court and before it was heard got 4,300 in compensation.

It was very stressful. I was on edge a lot of the time, which made my partner on edge.

I was and still feel very angry.

People in the street think the advantage of the EU is getting cheaper cigarettes and drink but the government don't want people taking advantage and this is the way they've gone about stopping it.

This case [the European Commission's action against the UK] should have been done a long time ago - but I think they were reluctant to take it to court. I don't think it will work - there's too much money involved.

I have travelled over since for meetings, but I've only brought back the minimum of goods - I just don't want any more trouble.

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07 Jul 04  |  Politics

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