Big rise in attacks on customs officers

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The Independent Online

Warnings have been posted to travellers arriving at ports and airports throughout Britain after an unprecedented wave of violent attacks on customs officers by the public.

Warnings have been posted to travellers arriving at ports and airports throughout Britain after an unprecedented wave of violent attacks on customs officers by the public.

Customs officers have suffered cracked ribs and broken wrists in a series of assaults. At Dover there have been 85 attacks in the past year. In response, staff are being sent on courses to be taught self-defence and to restrain people who threaten them physically.

Senior officers said yesterday that attacks on officers were "almost unheard of" only a few years ago and that the new wave of violence was reminiscent of clashes with smugglers in the 18th century.

The violence is being directly linked with a drive by Customs and Excise to tackle organised gangs of tobacco smugglers. An officer at Plymouth ferry port said: "The incidents of abusive language and threatening behaviour have risen over the last few months due almost exclusively to the drive to deal with bootleggers."

Seizures of tobacco increased by 35 per cent in the year to the end of March. Customs confiscated 5,200 vehicles from smugglers in the same period. Customs and Excise is recruiting 1,000 more officers and deploying new scanning vehicles to detect cigarettes inside lorries.

A Customs and Excise spokesman said yesterday that 85 per cent of arrested bootleggers had been found to have convictions for violence.

The posters warn people who are stopped in customs halls that they will face prosecution if they react violently.

Stephen Barrett, 23, of Dover, was jailed for one month in May after kicking and pushing officers at the hoverport, Dover. In a separate case, Jeffrey Pinnock, 43, of Basildon in Essex, was sentenced to two months in April after threatening officers at the Channel Tunnel.

Airport-based officers are also reporting increased aggression from people stopped in the customs hall.

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