Bootleg tip-off line is started

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THE GOVERNMENT stepped up its campaign against smuggling yesterday by launching a confidential 24-hour hotline to encourage the public to phone in with information.

Dawn Primarolo, the Paymaster General, said she hoped the public would report any suspicions they had of drugs, tobacco or alcohol smuggling. Tobacco smuggling is estimated to have cost the country pounds 1.7bn last year and alcohol smuggling pounds 220m.

"They are not modern day Robin Hoods or `Jack the Lads' selling real bargains," she said. "Recently Customs and Excise seized a large consignment of methylated spirits labelled as vodka and whisky. These are real criminals."

A guide published by the department tells people what to look for but warns them not to get involved themselves.

Labour attacked the last Tory government when it introduced a confidential hotline for people to report benefit cheats. Then, many Labour MPs said "shop your neighbour" campaigns would undermined community relations.

The Call Customs Confidential hotline number is 0800 595000.