Cross-Channel operator Hoverspeed sues'heavy-handed' UK customs

8th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Oct 8 (AFP) - The Channel ferry company Hoverspeed, which operates between Britain and France, said Friday it was suing British customs for 50 million pounds sterling (75 million euros) for what it said was "heavy-handed" searches of passengers.

LONDON, Oct 8 (AFP) - The Channel ferry company Hoverspeed, which operates between Britain and France, said Friday it was suing British customs for 50 million pounds sterling (75 million euros) for what it said was "heavy-handed" searches of passengers.  

The company is basing its claim on evidence by two passengers. A first civil hearing found in favour of Hoverspeed, ruling that customs officers had acted illegally in carrying out random searches.  

The case will be heard from November 25.  

The company operates hovercraft between the southeastern English town of Dover and France's northwestern Calais, and between Newhaven in southeast England and Dieppe, northwest France.  

The European Commission had warned Britain in July that its patience was running out over customs seizures of cut-price tobacco and alcohol bought by Britons in other EU states.  

The European Union's executive branch issued a "reasoned opinion" - the last step before court action - after the British government had largely ignored three previous warnings to stop the clampdowns.  

Not for the first time, the commission complained that British customs officers were being over-zealous in seizing goods - and sometimes vehicles - arriving at ports following so-called "booze cruises" by Britons abroad.  

Under the EU's internal-market rules, individuals can bring in an unlimited amount of goods from another member state, provided they are for their own use and not for commercial re-sale.  

Britons more than most have seized upon their EU rights to take advantage of much cheaper prices for tobacco and alcohol across the Channel, creating a boom industry in "booze cruise" ferry trips.  

But the British government complains that all too often, the goods end up being sold on the black market. For the commission, that is a legitimate concern.  

But Brussels has taken particular objection to British customs officers' practice of seizing goods and vehicles if they suspect the merchandise is being bought for friends or family, even without any prospect of commercial gain.  

Seizure of property is justified in certain situations, the commission said.  

But, "when applied to minor fiscal offences of a 'not for profit' character, it goes further than is strictly necessary and represents an unacceptable obstacle to the free movement of goods", it said.  

The commission called on the British government, in such cases, to impose the required duty and a fine rather than impounding property.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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