New Customs chief warns against free trade abuse: Colin Brown meets Valerie Strachan, the next chairman of Customs and Excise

VALERIE STRACHAN won a European woman of the year award for her work in bringing down the barriers to free trade on 1 January. But, as the chairman- elect of Customs and Excise, she is promising a crackdown on revellers who abuse the system.

'We would be concerned if that is happening,' Ms Strachan, 52, said yesterday after it was announced that the deputy chairman would be taking over at Customs and Excise.

'We will have teams of officers who are on the look-out and using intelligence tip-offs to try to make sure that we don't get bootlegging and racketeering,' she said. 'In our publicity we made it clear it was for personal use not for resale. We are starting as we mean to go on. We are not there to conduct fiscal checks at the frontiers. We are going to make selective checks on drug smuggling.

'We will be following up fiscal fraud inland, using intelligence tip-offs, good ferreting-out work by excise teams we set up.'

Some of the revellers who took advantage of the lifting of Customs limits at Britain's ports on 1 January to resell drink or cigarettes for a profit may be getting a visit from her agents.

In spite of her enthusiasm for the single European market, Mrs Strachan made it clear that the decision to maintain passport controls at British ports - in spite of pressure from the Commission - was a political decision, beyond her remit.

She is fastidious in pointing out that, although Customs and Excise is more independent than most Whitehall departments, she is still a civil servant responsible to the Chancellor and Sir John Cope, the Paymaster General. Mrs Strachan studied politics at Manchester University and was vice-president of the union, before entering Customs and Excise in 1961 as a graduate trainee. 'It was a jolly good political course, but I learned more about politics when I joined the department.' But the only party she remembers joining was the English Country Dancing club.

Visitors to her office overlooking the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge, are greeted by a black museum of smugglers' tools, including a fake coat hanger and an underwater speargun once filled with cocaine. Her administrative skills were used as a commissioner for VAT, which occupies two-thirds of the work at Customs and Excise. She headed the Cabinet Office team on management reforms for the civil service and was involved in the negotiations for the creation of the single market.

The introduction of a third, blue section, in addition to the red and green customs areas, at Heathrow airport for EC citizens has been criticised for adding to the confusion about Customs. 'I am sure there will be a period when people will be confused but we will be understanding. I am old enough to have been responsible for introducing red-green channels back in the 1960s. There were people utterly flummoxed then. But that wore off.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies