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UK Border Force officers wield a battery of powers designed to combat smuggling – but they must not be exercised unreasonably. The First-tier Tribunal (FTT) made that point in coming to the aid of a woman whose family car was loaded with over 300 litres of wine when its driver was stopped as he prepared to cross the Channel.
After the car was pulled over at Coquelles, near Calais, which lay within UK customs enforcement territory, officers took the view that it was being used for smuggling or attempted smuggling of alcohol for commercial, rather than personal, use. Both the vehicle and its contents were seized.
The woman who owned the car, who was not present at the time, asserted that she had lent it to the driver and had no idea that he planned to use it for smuggling. She said that he often borrowed her car for personal reasons, such as visiting family, and that she had no connection to the contraband goods. Her request to have the vehicle restored to her was, however, rejected by an officer, who was not satisfied that she was an innocent third party.
Upholding her appeal against that decision, the FTT found that the officer could not reasonably have arrived at that conclusion on the evidence before him. The car was designed for carrying people, not goods, and there was no evidence whatsoever that it had previously been used for smuggling.
The woman testified that she gave the driver permission to use her car during a brief telephone call while she was at an airport and that he told her nothing of the use to which he intended to put it. There was no evidence that she was to have a share of the smuggled goods. The Director of Border Revenue was directed to reconsider the woman's restoration application in the light of the FTT's ruling.