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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 11:53 GMT
What can't you send through the post?
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
The Magazine answers...

First Class the hamster
First Class was rescued safely
Two students who sent a hamster through the post as a drunken prank have been fined and banned from owning animals. So what else can't you put in a parcel?

The hamster found in a postbox is now named First Class.

And he's lucky to be alive. If he hadn't gnawed through the envelope and been spotted by the postman, he might have died in the sorting machine.

David Jordan and James Cole, both 19, admitted abandoning the animal in circumstances likely to cause it unnecessary suffering. They were both fined and banned from keeping animals for 10 years.

Not only were the two Cambridge University students committing a criminal offence, which they said they did when drunk and as an act of revenge, they were also breaking Royal Mail rules.

ALLOWED IN THE POST...
Bees
Leeches
Silkworms
Caterpillars
Earthworms
Lugworms
Fish eggs
Maggots
Mealworms
Ragworms
...but only by Royal Mail and if in correct packaging
So what else is banned from the postbox?

Unlike other postal firms, Royal Mail does not ban the whole of the animal kingdom.

A spokesman said: "Living creatures are prohibited but there are exceptions, like earthworms, bees and leeches.

"But if you are going to send one, you need to seek advice from us on packaging because it needs to be acceptable. And you need to use first class post and clearly label the parcel."

The RSPCA says these conditions are satisfactory and it has never received a complaint about them, although it advises people to use extreme caution in exercising them.

Crackers

Royal Mail also bans "filth", which is foul or disgusting material, and "indecent, obscene or offensive articles". Firearms are prohibited but sporting guns are permitted, with the necessary licensing and paperwork.

Other items banned include loose batteries, loose Christmas crackers, alcoholic content above 70%, paint, matches and live plants (if to export).

WHO, WHAT, WHY?
Question Mark - from original architect's doodle design for BBC TV Centre
A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

There is a general restriction on size of 1.5 metres in length and 20kg in weight.

Human remains are banned, but what about living humans?

James Abrams tested this loophole when he "posted" himself to 60 post offices around the UK to raise money for charity. Dressed like a parcel, he spent seven weeks being bundled into Royal Mail post vans and even on to motorbikes.

Since 1 January, Royal Mail has faced competition in the postal market, so the rules can vary, depending on the postal firm.

We don't allow any creatures at all, or any articles likely to cause injury
Julie Barnett
Intercity
In practice, many of its new competitors, like Mail Plus and UK Mail, use Royal Mail in the final stages of delivery so apply the same rules.

But some, like Intercity Communications, do their own hand deliveries. Julie Barnett, production manager, says there is a total ban on all live animals.

"We don't allow any creatures at all, or any articles likely to cause injury or danger. Even sending bottles, which is not generally illegal but could be in circumstances where they might break and cut someone."

Some items could break the rules if the packaging is see-through and offensive words or pictures are clearly visible, she added.

If an offending item could constitute a criminal offence, as in the case of First Class, then the police are called. But if it only contravenes guidelines, then the regulator Postcomm is contacted for advice on how to proceed.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I tested the powers of Royal Mail through 'ToastPost', which unsurprisingly involved posting toast. I wasn't too sure on the rules regarding posting food stuffs, but since all I did was wrap a slice of toast in clingfilm and add a stamp and address label, I decided it was obvious what my post was. And well done Royal Mail, a piece addressed to myself came back and another sent to my brother arrived unharmed in Birmingham. Now if only they would deliver all my 'normal' parcels to the right address...
Nigel, Southampton

My aunt (by marriage, I hasten to add!) once posted my mum six eggs in an eggbox wrapped in brown paper. The sodden parcel arrived in a plastic bag kindly supplied by the Post Office. My mum wrote to the PO to apologise. My aunt wrote to us to ask if we'd enjoyed the eggs...
Susan, Herts, UK

When I was living in Helsinki, my girlfriend received a very soggy and slightly smelly parcel one morning. When we opened it, to our surprise we found it contained a previously frozen fish, now fully thawed, that her mother had posted to her from Lapland the previous afternoon because she wanted to make sure "we were eating properly"! To this day neither mother nor daughter understand why this might be seen as somewhat eccentric...
Nick Edwards, Formby, UK

So, I could save myself a heck of an air-fare if I just posted myself from Bedford to New York?
Hazera Forth, Bedford, England

I ordered some stick insects which arrived in the first class post. I don't recall that they were labelled in any particular way, they just came in a box.
Amy, London

While it is not legal to post human remains, it is actually perfectly legal to post cremated remains. Only un-cremated remains are required to be posted via a courier. It is also legal to post live crickets!
Niki Watkis, Durham

Just after freshers week last year some friends and I wished to test what stuff the post office would send if it was unwrapped or un-enveloped. We decided to send a t-shirt, a pair of (clean) underpants and a paper cup through the post with only an address sticker and a second class stamp on them. Everything came through fine except the t-shirt. We would be much obliged if it could be sent to the University of London if it is ever found.
Charlotte, London, UK

I thought we were also allowed to post ladybirds; I was sure that there are firms which supply ladybirds through the mail as part of organic pest prevention. Perhaps they use a courier though...
Susan Cunningham, Oxford, UK

There's a song by the Velvet Underground called The Gift, about a man who sends himself by parcel to his girlfriend. Very funny song - very nasty ending!
Paul, Tunbridge Wells

Surely James Abrams would have been heavier than 20kg (44pounds), not to mention a non-excluded "living creature" and therefore technically prohibited from being posted anyway.
Nick, Leeds

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