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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Hoverspeed seeks 50m in damages
A Customs officer at Dover
Hoverspeed says Customs searches cost it business
Cross-Channel operator Hoverspeed has made a 50m damages claim against Customs & Excise accusing its staff of "heavy-handed" searching of passengers.

The move follows a High Court ruling in 2002 which found that random stop and searches carried out on Hoverspeed passengers were unlawful.

Hoverspeed said the claim covered loss of revenue and of passenger goodwill.

In response, Customs & Excise said it believed it had a strong case and would vigorously defend its position.

'Landmark decision'

Hoverspeed has been involved in a long running dispute with Customs & Excise over its attempts to stamp out tobacco and alcohol smuggling on routes between Calais and Dover and Dieppe and Newhaven.

The company claims customs officers were too keen to carry out random searches, putting people on innocent shopping trips off travelling across the channel.

Customs & Excise defended the practice, claiming that Hoverspeed routes posed a particular threat of smuggling because of their speed and short distances.

In a case brought by Hoverspeed passengers in 2002, the High Court ruled that Customs & Excise had not proved "reasonable grounds" for stopping a family and that its policy was "incompatible" with EU law.

"We got a landmark decision against Customs & Excise for their tactics against cross-Channel shoppers," Steve Lawrence, spokesman for Sea Containers -Hoverspeed's parent company- told BBC News Online.

"At the time we reserved the right to claim for damages.

"The claim is for loss of ticket revenue, loss of retail sales and loss of passenger goodwill."

Hoverspeed carried 300,000 vehicles last year

However, Customs & Excise said it believed it had a "very strong case".

Battle-lines drawn

"We are not surprised by Hoverspeed's action, even though Customs won in the Appeal Court on many aspects of the original ruling," a spokesman said.

"We will vigorously contest the claim."

Travellers can bring back unlimited amounts of alcohol and cigarettes from the continent as long as they are for personal use.

However, Customs & Excise say they may stop anyone thought to be carrying goods over a "minimum indicative level": 800 cigarettes, 90 litres of wine, 10 litres of spirits, 110 litres of beer and 20 litres of fortified wine.

However, the way in which customs officers select vehicles to check has long been a source of controversy.

Prior to the 2002 case, officers worked on the basis of "generalised trend intelligence".

Although the ruling allowed Customs & Excise to continue using profiling to determine who they stopped, officers were told they must also have a specific reason for doing so.

A preliminary hearing in the case is expected next month with a full hearing likely to take place next year.

Why Hoverspeed believes it is entitled to damages

Customs 'unfair' to day-trippers
13 Nov 03  |  Business
Hoverspeed to sue Customs
28 Aug 03  |  Kent
Channel shoppers win legal battle
31 Jul 02  |  Latest News

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