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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Customs deny defying High Court
A man carrying a box of alcohol
Customs had been "over-zealous", Hoverspeed claimed
Customs officials have rejected accusations of ignoring a court ruling about the way they search cross-Channel shoppers.

Legally, travellers are allowed to bring back unlimited amounts of alcohol and cigarettes as long as it is for personal use.

What can I bring in?
As much as you like for your own personal use
But Customs may stop anyone carrying more than a "minimum indicative level" of:
800 cigarettes
90 litres of wine
10 litres of spirits
110 litres of beer
20 litres of fortified wine

And the High Court ruled randomly stopping vehicles looking for smuggled alcohol and tobacco broke European Union laws.

But lawyers acting for cross-Channel operator Hoverspeed say officials are still stopping vehicles without any suspicion that goods are being brought back for anything other than personal consumption.

Customs & Excise insists it has amended its procedures carefully to implement the ruling.

The High Court case was brought by Hoverspeed and a group of day trippers who had had their goods seized and car impounded following a random stop.

Illegal trade

Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Bell ruled Customs had not proved it had "reasonable grounds" for stopping the car, so "the goods in it should therefore not have been seized. Nor should the car".

But Customs made it very clear the ruling was not a "green light" for travellers to bring back as much alcohol or cigarettes as they wanted.

The chances of being stopped
15m arrive through Channel ports each year
About 3% (450,000) stopped
0.2% (30,000) 'cannot satisfy' Customs
10,000 vehicles a year impounded
Source: Customs and Excise

It says the court acknowledged the ruling was "not likely to make much difference in practice".

In a statement it said: "Customs does not want to interfere with the right of people to cross the Channel to buy goods for their own use, but we remain committed to tackling those who bring in tobacco or alcohol for money.

"This illegal trade costs almost 4bn a year - more than 130 a year for every person in the country - and is putting honest traders out of business."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Nick Stevens, Hoverspeed
"They're not complying with the High Court ruling"
Terry Burns, Customs & Excise
"We can explain why we have stopped a car in each case"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | England
31 Jul 02 | Business
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