Your comments on the "Nothing to declare" programme, first broadcast on Wednesday, 23 March 2005.
Due to the high number of e-mails we get we cannot guarantee to publish every single message we receive, however the e-mails published will reflect the balance of opinion. We may also edit some e-mails for legal reasons and for purposes of clarity and length.
The views expressed on these pages are not necessarily the views of the BBC. The e-mails published will be reflective of the balance of opinion received.
Isn't it strange that Customs are so diligent in looking for an odd bottle or two not declared by a holidaymaker, in some cases purloining folks' cars but happily watch crooks drive away lorry loads of contraband not for days, not for weeks, not for months but for years! They are a law unto themselves it seems.
I am horrified at the treatment of Gordon Smith, a man of principle who was subjected to abuse by the very organisation he was employed by, and which he was trying to help to achieve its lawful objectives. To dismiss his recommendations, in the full knowledge that he was correct in his views, is objectionable in the extreme. Senior management at HM Customs has diminished substantially in my esteem, and harmed the officers who are committed to upholding the law.
In view of your findings in this evening's programme is it not strange that the government is publishing a consultation document on new Customs and Revenue powers tomorrow? It will be buried in the Easter holiday and the run up to the election. Yet if the proposals are unopposed there will be a significant expansion of powers in the joint Customs and Revenue mega-department.
Margaret Lloyd, Newbury, Berks
Impressed by the programme although investigation did not appear balanced - the selection of interview subjects was very one sided.
Tim Saker, Walmer, Kent, England
I have been astonished while watching tonight's Panorama at the actions and involvement of Customs and Excise, a once highly trusted and thought of pillar of British justice. We as a nation rely on their honesty and integrity and I am very disappointed at what I have seen tonight. The people involved in this should be locked up, I think, and there should be an inquiry into this operation and the great loss of public money to restore public confidence in Customs and Excise. If we cannot trust Customs and Excise, then I wonder who can we trust? Well done BBC and Panorama for bringing this to viewers attention.
Steve Fuller, Hove, East Sussex, England
I am disappointed that your report this evening neglected to even mention the outstanding efforts of the majority of HM Customs and Excise staff, whose dedication and hard work for The Crown and Country contribute to stem the flow of drugs traffic and other fraudulent and illegal activity in the United Kingdom.
M Ward, Herts, UK
I was a juror at one of the trials in 1999 and would like to point out that the costs of the fraud did not just amount to the losses incurred by the Revenue. I have no idea how much the costs would have been in gathering the evidence, the legal fees both charged by the prosecution team and the legal team representing the defendants. Our trial lasted 8 months and the cost to our employers covering jury absence would also have been significant and one of my colleagues actually lost his job as he had self employed. The total cost of this fraud when all these additional factors are taken into consideration would easily have been billions as the legal proceedings were held on may occasions throughout the country.
Name withheld, Surrey
As a civil servant I have to ask, in view of the apparent length of this investigation, was the decision to amalgamate Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue a senior level or Government decision to combine the two made in an attempt to save face value of the two main sources of Gordon Brown's income?
Michael Wilson, London, England
A fairly balanced programme on appalling mismanagement which, unfortunately, is par for the course at the top of Customs. However, it was a bit hypocritical for the programme to bemoan all the hospitals and schools that could have been built while, at the same time, giving the fraudsters almost carte blanche to portray themselves an innocent victims. This was particularly glaring when one claimed that it was only a bit of a giggle stealing money from the Queen which didn't matter because "she's got lots anyway". No attempt by the interviewer to challenge this attitude.
Philip Rushton, London, England
although I disapprove of a handful of criminals becoming millionaires through this fraud, I have yet to meet anyone who actually agreed to the Exchequer receiving 70% of the cost of a bottle of whisky!
Ms A M Thomson, Edinburgh, Scotland
I was amazed how a scam could have escalated out of control. I'm glad that Customs and Excise are being fully investigated. They have always portrayed themselves as above the law and confiscate alcohol and cigarettes from normal citizens who go abroad every so often for their allowance. This programme has shown that they are not above the law as they lied and covered up to their own ends and now it has backfired. So much for honesty!
Pamela Evans, Welwyn Garden City, England
LCB isn't a wholesaler itself, it is merely a warehouse acting for product owners. There would therefore, presumably, have been a degree of complicity on the part of the owners of the products, who saw their sales apparently rocket, in areas where the goods were allegedly bound for. At the level of the sales discussed it is unlikely in extreme that this would have gone unnoticed. No mention seems to have been made about this. Secondly, one of the accused stated it was just a bit of a giggle, and no-one got hurt. What about the millions of pounds worth of lost revenue for legitimate companies and their employees?
Custom and Excise caught some hundred smugglers. The fact they were not convicted is not their fault but the failure of our liberal legal system which allows criminals to go free on a technicality. The BBC should be highlighting how easy it is to get away with crime in this country, not blaming Customs and Excise.
Steven James, Essex
Surely the problem discussed in the programme is the fundamental autonomy of the Customs and Excise Department. Any changes should be analysed with respect of bringing accountability at even the most senior levels of the new agency.
Jeremy Crooks, Haywards Heath
Has anyone thought that the programme may have been an appalling one-sided account and that the ill-conceived actions of a few individuals may have unfairly tarnished that Department whose officers have given so much of their lives to the country?
I have never written an 'angry of ...' type letter before, but, as a VAT-registered small business owner, who has over the last twelve years religiously paid both VAT and income tax, I was incensed by the revelation that nearly 2 billion pounds has been lost by HM Customs during this bungled investigation. My heart goes out to the solicitor who was used as a pawn in the proceedings and lost not only his job but also his mental health as a result. I hope that he now feels that he at least has his self-respect.
Gill Hall, Budleigh Salterton, England
The programme (and Mr Lamb MP in particular) consistently attempted to imply a major conspiracy across HMCE, whilst the evidence suggested failures of management rather than lack of integrity. Customs and Excise took advice from other solicitors and the Attorney General and still cocked up, but to suggest they are corrupt or above the law is not supported by the facts. Scrutiny of the senior decision makers is however, most welcome.
Keith Bratley, Southend, Essex
I am writing as a law abiding, tax paying citizen of this great country. It is unbelievable to see the cover-ups and mistakes made by the HM Customs and Excise in the London City Bond case. Meanwhile this "respected" Government law enforcement organisation is prepared to use all resources at its disposal to chase small debts from small businesses who are barely managing to survive. It is shameful, I must say. Thanks to BBC for giving such insight into what goes on in the corridors of power of HM Customs, hopefully the Government will institute a public inquiry into this affair. Thank you
David , Enfiled, Middlesex
To break the law, so as to convict others of breaking the law, is unacceptable. If one breaks the law to the extent of perverting the course of justice, that is even more unacceptable. When committing a much more serious criminal offence to convict people of a less serious offence, this does not show too much intelligence. Surely the "Intelligence" division of HM Customs has some people working for them that have more than the basic intelligence quotient to make them eligible for such a job?
Stewart Stevenson, Luton, UK
A very interesting programme and a good watch. Thought it was balanced towards the criminals though and overall the Customs did well catching the fraudsters just a shame all the work was undone by this cock-up. Whatever the outcome of the programme, I am sure HM Customs and Excise is still regarded as the most non-corrupt law enforcement agency in the world
Not too many years ago every bonded warehouse in the UK had a Revenue Constable (Customs Officer) based inside. Nothing moved in and out of that warehouse without the officer's approval. The officer knew all the warehouse staff, thier responsibilities, the level of traffic flowing through the warehouse at any given time, the lorry drivers and the companies they worked for and the officer was in charge of the relevant paperwork. There was a clear audit trail for each movemment of goods which could be tracked throughout the UK. It would have been impossible to conduct such a fraud for any length of time in these circumstances.There were many officers in this audit trail with each acting as an independent check on the other. Unfortunately, with one stroke these Revenue Constables were removed as part of a cost cutting exercise. If you take away the front line of defence then its not surprising the floodgates are opened.
Numerous Customs Officers invested a couple of years of their lives in investigating and prosecuting the various operations involving LCB. They never tampered with evidence or fitted anybody up. As a result of legal parasites manipulating the British justice system and making millions in legal aid fees (tax payers money), criminals, many of whome pleaded guilty are now free. Well done Panorama. They are laughing at you and everybody who rushed to their computer, eager to slag off HMCE. Why dont you do a show about the lawyers who ensure that crime pays in the UK.
Joe Mahoney, Liverpool, England
Many changes have already been put in place since the shambles that is LCB took place (an independent prosecutions office for one). Others are probably planned. What must not be forgotten is the work that customs officers do each day in protecting the ever diminishing borders of the country.
The programme left as many questions as it did answers. The quantities of spirits involved could not possibly have been sold on to the market place by small time crooks operating through public houses. Surely a reasonably large chain of distributors must have been involved? The BBC has a duty to let us (and the authorities) know who they are.
John Martin, Wirral, UK
Great insight into a complete fiasco, it would be funny if it wasn't so serious. I am livid with the incompetence displayed by HM Customs and disgusted with the treatment of Gordon Smith together with the fact that so many criminals have effectively got away with it. To hear that driver smugly talking about "having a giggle" and "the Queen can afford it" made me feel sick - how about every law abiding citizen in the country being done out of approximately £2 billion?
Neil Sullivan, Loughton, Essex
I think those calling for an enquiry/investigation are missing the point that this is already a police investigation going on - see the link on the Panorama page itself. Also Customs will be subject to Independent Police Complaints Commission and HM Inspector of Constabulary oversight in future. And ultimately whatever the tactical/policy aspects of all this, no Customs officer set out to personally gain or profit from their actions and it was the decision of the fraudsters to commit the offences - as said in the programme if a bank leaves its vault door open, is this incitement or encouragement to the criminal to commit the offence?
Name withheld, Merseyside
It is a nonsense to say that lawyers ensure that crime pays.
Lawyers are required to make the best case for their cilents. If evil wins over good are we to condemn the lawyers for not doing a thorough job? If information is witheld how can the lawyers and judges work effectively? It would be good for Customs to bring out the positive outcome of their work in this instance. We need to know the truth.
John Bridge, Westcliff on Sea