Complex issues around vehicle condemnation

Paul acted for a Polish courier company who had a van and trailer seized because their “groupage” load contained 100,000 cigarettes concealed in copper immersion-heater tanks.

The client was clearly being used by a sophisticated smuggling operation (the tanks needed to be X-rayed and taken apart to find and access the cigarettes), but issues were raised concerning the accounts given by the drivers when intercepted, possibly as a result of language difficulties, and the suspicious circumstances of the collection and delivery locations (e.g. supermarket car parks or on-street rendezvous with the client).

There were also issues because the vehicle was subject to a lease agreement and it was necessary to establish whether it was the “property” of the courier company at the time of the interception (see para 10(1) of Schedule 3 to the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979).

The Court found that, given the courier company’s failure to take adequate checks as regards their customers or the load, especially given the obviously suspicious circumstances, and considering the value of the excise goods and the vehicle, it was proportionate for the vehicle and trailer to be “condemned” and forfeit. The company also had to pay costs of £2300.