27,000 now smuggle cigarettes and drink

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The Independent Online

Police believe that 27,000 people in Britain are smuggling "booze and fags" from the continent, MPs were told yesterday.

Detective Inspector Allan Atherfold of the Kent police told the House of Commons Excise Duty Panel that many criminals are becoming rich off the back of bootlegging. "While the smuggling gangs are more concentrated in the South-east they have spread across the whole country."

Highlighting the social costs of smuggling, Det Insp Atherfold claimed that bootlegging was "damaging the nation's morals". "Dealing in smuggled goods is criminalising large numbers of the ordinary public. There is hardly a town or village in Britain where there is not someone who sells smuggled alcohol or booze. And people do not feel it wrong to buy this cheap contraband." He said the public should understand this was all part of a criminal enterprise. "The smugglers are not Robin Hoods but increasingly they are part of organised crime gangs."

The Excise Duty Panel called yesterday's Commons hearing after a recent Institute of Innkeeping report revealed that children as young as eight were buying alcohol from bootleggers. The institute is pressing the Chancellor to reduce excise in next week's Budget to make smuggling beer, wine and spirits less worthwhile. Excise on beer in Britain is 33p a pint but only 5p in France. Cigarettes can be bought from bootleggers for £26 per 200, compared to £36 in a discount supermarket.

Jane Griffiths, the Labour MP for Reading East, who chairs the panel, said: "The social cost of bootlegging is shocking and I felt that MPs needed to known the full extent of it."