Something to declare: Tory peer in 'brawl' at Spanish customs

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The Independent Online

Thomas Robin Valerian Dixon, 3rd Baron Glentoran of Ballyalloly in Northern Ireland, the Conservatives' Northern Ireland spokesman in the Lords, was provisionally charged with assault, resistance to authorities and serious disobedience after the fracas in the customs office on Spain's border with Gibraltar.

Spanish authorities said one officer suffered bruises to his neck, back, and right knee, and a sprained finger; another had a sprained neck and multiple bruises; and the third suffered bruises and a sprained hand. Lady Glentoran was also reported to have suffered slight bruises to her arm.

Lord Glentoran, 70, a keen sportsman and Olympic bobsleigh champion, emerged unscathed. Eton-educated Lord Glentoran, and his wife, Margaret Ann, 57, were freed without having to post bail yesterday pending further investigation by the magistrates' court at La Linea, the Spanish town that borders the British colony.

The magistrate is to make a final decision on charges to be levelled against the couple in the coming days. This could result in a fine. Lord and Lady Glentoran, who have a home in Spain, kept their passports.

The couple were crossing the border into Spain after a visit to Gibraltar on Tuesday evening when customs officials asked Lord Glentoran to show his passport, and to declare two bottles of whisky and two cartons of cigarettes they had bought on the Rock.

Lord Glentoran refused with some vehemence, according to Spanish reports. Office furniture was damaged in the ensuing "brawl", regional Spanish authorities said.

The customs officers then summoned three paramilitary civil guardsmen to calm the couple down. A representative from the British consulate in Malaga travelled to La Linea to see the couple after they were detained.

When Lord and Lady Gletoran appeared in court in La Linea yesterday morning, the presiding magistrate asked Lord Glentoran about the incident. Lord Glentoran responded that he became agitated and didn't want to show his passport for fear the details of his identity might be made public, court sources said.

One press report suggested the couple may have been drinking before the disturbance, but they were not breathalysed, and the allegation was not confirmed.

The altercation seems to have occurred over a relatively trivial matter. Tobacco and alcohol, and other goods including electrical appliances, perfume and petrol, are much cheaper on the Rock, a perk that Spaniards, and expatriate Britons living on the Costa, regularly and openly take advantage of. The modest quantities Lord and Lady Glentoran were carrying are unlikely to have exceeded duty-free limits.

Spanish customs authorities ask those who regularly visit Gibraltar from Spain to fill in a form registering the amounts of duty-free goods they bring back every month, as a way of keeping tabs on the traffic. Lady Glentoran was invited to fill in such a form, according to one report, but refused to co-operate.

A major in the Grenadier Guards, Lord Glentoran was bobsleigh gold medallist in the 1964 Winter Olympics, and remains president of the British Bobsleigh Association. As a shadow minister for Northern Ireland, he is responsible for everything in the region from agriculture to terrorism, crime and security.

Lord Glentoran declined to comment on the affair when he and his wife left the court with his lawyer. The Conservative Party also declined to comment.

Lord Glentoran entered the House of Lords in 1995 and has served as a shadow minister for Northern Ireland since 1999.

He also acted as Conservative spokesman in the Lords on the environment, food and rural affairs between 2001 and 2003.