Examination of Witnesses (Questions 102-119)
TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002
102. I am very pleased to welcome representatives
of the Association of Port Health Authorities. I think, Mr Bloomfield,
you are the full-time official.
(Mr Bloomfield) No, I am actually an honorary under-secretary.
The Executive Secretary, Peter Rotheram is unable to be here today
because of ill-health, so I am taking his place.
103. Would you like to introduce your colleagues?
(Mr Bloomfield) Certainly. On my far left is Mike
Young, who is Head of Environmental Services, Crawley Borough
Council, and is therefore responsible for Gatwick Airport. Mike
is also Secretary of the Association's Airport Liaison Committee.
On my immediate left is Jon Averns, who is Port Health Services
Director for the Corporation of London and is therefore responsible
for all of the River Thames up to Teddington Lock from the sea,
and responsible for Tilbury, Thamesport and London City Airport.
I am Doug Bloomfield, I am Head of Port Health for Suffolk Coast
District Council and responsible for Felixstowe, which is the
biggest container port in the UK. I am also Honorary Secretary
of the Association.
104. We have had some very helpful evidence
from the Port of London Authority. Perhaps we could start at that
point. One of the things, I think, that it is quite important
to do is to try and get a grip on the scale of the problem. In
your evidence you talk about the amount of illegal imports that
you have discovered. Something I am finding difficult is to try
and understand the scale of illegal meat imports. I just wonder
if you could give us your feelings on that.
(Mr Averns) Certainly. As far as London Port Health
Authority is concerned there are two separate issues here. One
is the sea ports, and, as Doug said, we cover Thamesport and Tilbury,
which are both large container ports. The seizures we have had
there, at Thamesport, in particular relate to products from the
Far East. We have had seizures of Chinese hamsonly a small
number of seizures but the ones we have had, we have had about
three tonnes or something like that. Our other problem is at London
City Airport, where we get passengers who transit from other countries
and they are carrying illegal products, or smuggling products
in. We get 100 to 200 passengers stopped each year with a range
of items. We have prepared some information for you which gives
details not only for London but also for Gatwick, Felixstowe and
some of the other ports, to try and give an indication of what
has been going on in the last year. I think you will probably
find that useful.
105. That would be helpful, thank you. What
would also be helpful is to try and find out what has been happening
over the last year. What is your impression? Is this a problem
that is growing, or getting less, or is it because there is more
focus or more publicity about the issue that people think it is
a bigger problem?
(Mr Averns) Perhaps if I start with London, certainly
I do not believe the problem has diminished at all in London in
the last year. Certainly as far as London City Airport is concerned,
we have had the same sort of level of seizures. Yes, we have stepped
up our surveillance slightly but I do not think there has been
any noticeable decrease in the number of people trying to smuggle
in. Likewise, at the sea ports, they are still trying to get items
106. Would that be the same for Gatwick?
(Mr Young) Yes, that would be. We do not really see
that there has been any decrease in the amount of illegal products
that are being brought in, either in air freight or in passenger
baggage. I think the events over the last twelve months have probably
put a spotlight on the issue . We have undertaken a number of
specific exercises in co-operation with Customs, targeting particular
flights, and have had seizures from passengers on all the flights
that we targeted.
107. How many flights have you targeted, Mr
Young, during this calendar year?
(Mr Young) Chairman, in the period 31 March 2001 to
30 March 2002 we undertook 30 special operations where we had
staff with in the green Customs channel with Customs officers.
We were targeting specific flights in those 30 operationsnormally
only one flight per operation but as you can imagine with a busy
airport sometimes you do pick up passengers off other flights.
108. Is that on a haphazard basis, or on the
basis of information received?
(Mr Young) It was on the basis of information received
and experience, yes.
109. So, typically, from West African countries?
(Mr Young) From Gatwick it was African countries,
yes. However, I have to say that that is because of the nature
of aviation, where flights from Asia, for example, go into Heathrow.
So we would not be targeting those. During those 30 operations
we did detect 257 passengers carrying products of animal origin
illegally. The total weight amounted to just over 2.75 tonnes.
I should also hasten to add that when you only have a team of
six staff doing checks, the minute you stop six people and are
searching you are then missing many more passengers, of whom you
do not know how many are carrying stuff or not.
110. So somebody on every `plane?
(Mr Young) I believe I am right in saying that for
every operation we mounted we found at least one person.
111. The situation at sea ports is slightly
(Mr Bloomfield) You are correct in that. Last year
we found 112 consignments that were smugglednot brought
in through the legal channels and things that we consider smuggled.
They range from everything from antler powder through to ham.
112. We went to Heathrow and we had a look in
the cold store and there were quite a few products that had been
confiscated because they were over the limit; they had them for
their own personal use but they did not seem to be particularly
harmfulI am talking about tinned dried milk powder, tins
of meat, tins of evaporated milk. Is that included in your total
or is it just, basically, meats that you are talking about when
you talk about the tonnage that you have collected?
(Mr Young) The majority is probably fish and fisheries
products, rather than meat, but there are significant amounts
of meat and some milk products in there as well. When we do the
seizure it is not based on any risk of harm, it is simply that
it is illegal to bring the products in.
113. So if they are over their personal allowance,
for example, that would go into the pile and be weighed?
(Mr Young) That is correct.
114. So it is not necessarily foods that are
being brought into the country that are dangerous that are in
(Mr Young) As I say, we do not make any assessment
of whether there is any danger in them, it is the fact that they
are illegal and we are there with the duty to control illegal
115. So if you bring in one tin of milk that
is fine, but if you are bringing in ten that is smuggling?
(Mr Young) That is correct, yes.
116. How is it smuggled in ports? Does it come
in as part of a container consignment, is it in the crew's gear?
(Mr Bloomfield) It generally comes in a container,
either manifested as something that it is notie, it could
be a meat product but it could be manifested as biscuits or not
listed at all. So you could have a packing list for a container
that would cover, for example, 1200 cartons and you might find
there are in fact 1300, and the other 100 things would be illegal
117. If you find someone on every flight, for
example, why do you not check them all?
(Mr Young) It is simply a question of resources, Chairman.
For the teams of six that I have been using to undertake these
checks, it is fortunate in some ways because the times of the
flights are normally at about six in the morning and I have been
doing it by paying them overtime to do it, outside their normal
118. When we had the Chartered Institute of
Environmental Health here the other week and when we visited Heathrow,
the environmental health officers there emphasised to us that
whilst they warmly welcomed what the Government was trying to
do they said it was crucial to expand the legal aspects. Indeed,
in the evidence that you have given to us you have argued that
quite strongly. If you had a wish list of increased legal powers,
in order of priority, what would they be?
(Mr Bloomfield) Certainly the powers are being enhanced
as we speak. The one thing that we think is missing is the power
to stop as well as to search. We are now allowed to search passengers
but we do not have the power to stop them. Whilst in most practical
circumstances people would stop, if you are actually trying to
enforce the law you do really need the basic powers like powers
of entry and powers to stop individuals, because they could just
walk away from you.
119. We got the strong impression at Heathrow
that this was what they had flagged up, and we got the impression
by the body language of Customs & Excise that they were not
necessarily happy that other people had this right. We could see
from the evidence that we were given that the trouble was there
is always a built-in delay, and that depends upon whether people
who have stop and search powers currently are there. Is that your
(Mr Young) In the checks that have been undertaken
so far we have always had Customs officers present because they
have the powers to stop and search. Those checks were undertaken
before the new regulations recently came in that gave us the power
of search. I think the issue, really, is that in practice 99 out
of 100 passengers, on seeing a uniformed officer in the Customs
channel and being asked to search their bags, will stop and open
their bags, but we have found from experience in doing these checks
that you do get quite aggressive challenges from the travelling
public about what powers you are using to stop them and what powers
you are using to look in their bags. I think this is really a
question of giving people who are at the sharp end and the front
line the strength that they will get from knowing they have actually
got powers to stop people in the green channel.