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Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Fourth Report

Rosyth to Zeebrugge Ferry

18. PCS was concerned that the introduction in May 2002 of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge Ferry would extend the pattern of drug smuggling from Zeebrugge, leading to the introduction of additional quantities into Scotland.[36] HMCE has allocated no extra staff to police the incoming ferry, on the grounds that the arrival of one ferry a day could be covered by a mobile team. This could be increased in number should intelligence indicate the necessity.[37] We have serious concerns about the implications for Scotland of this potential new route for contraband. It is entirely conceivable that attempts might be made to re-route through Rosyth much of the illicit tobacco, drugs and alcohol destined for Scotland, which presently arrives via Dover or Hull. PCS believed that evidence of recent activity by Scottish drug dealers, particularly in the Baltic area, illustrated that Scotland might be a target for an increase in direct imports.[38] We believe that this potential threat should be taken seriously. PCS said:

"To expect initially to be able to staff it [the Rosyth to Zeebrugge Ferry] on a no increased cost basis is damaging efforts elsewhere."[39]

HMCE told us it would monitor the situation and act accordingly. When it responds to this report, we request that the Government should provide us with an early indication of the levels of smuggling that have come to light in Rosyth following the introduction of the Zeebrugge Ferry. We would further welcome an assessment of the impact for Customs services in other parts of Scotland of the provision of staff at Rosyth.


Detector Dogs

19. The memorandum from HMCE acknowledged that detector dogs provided a "key anti-smuggling resource available for deployment in Scotland".[40] During oral evidence, HMCE initially appeared sceptical about the efficacy of detector dogs. It said that when dogs were last located in Scotland, their presence had been 'singularly unsuccessful'.[41] The animals then had been trained to limited use, more or less restricted to the detection of drugs. The dogs now based in the north of England could become 'multi-skilled', flexible and able to scent a variety of material.[42] But detection staff were not convinced of their usefulness.[43] During two recent visits to Scotland on drugs (involving two dogs) and currency (involving one dog) detection exercises, the dogs had drawn a blank.[44]

"The ionscan capability which sniffs in its own way is proving to be much more popular and user friendly and the officers can deploy it much more freely."[45]

This view was modified later in the session when we were told that "they [dogs] had proven themselves to be reasonably effective", but that the jury was out.[46] "The best use of the dogs over the years is where there is limited intelligence."[47]

20. Once again the focus on detection rather than prevention was apparent in HMCE thinking. Sixteen dogs are currently available for deployment in Scotland from Manchester and Hull. PCS did not believe that "its members on operational front-line duties in Scotland are well served by having to rely on a Dog Service where the nearest dog and handler are based in Hull".[48] The union suggested that the current arrangements had been put in place "because of restrictions on [the Department's] allocated resources, to cut back on those activities, to the particular detriment of Scotland".[49]

21. During our visit to Orkney, we heard via video-link from Mr Ian Davidge, the Chairman of Dogs Against Drugs, a charity which had introduced a 'passive'[50] detector dog into Shetland, a community affected by considerable heroin use. The idea had come from the Faroes. The dog and handler patrolled night clubs and points of entry. The use of the dog had been significantly successful. The exercise was widely supported by the community, not least in financial terms. Mr Davidge spoke of the difficulty of achieving any meaningful contact with HMCE concerning the use of the dog. During oral evidence HMCE revealed that they had now written to Mr Davidge,[51] although the terms of that response did not offer anything by way of practical assistance. We were concerned that, in view of the powers given to HMCE under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, the effective use of the dog will be limited as a result of this attitude at HMCE.

22. We consider it inappropriate that detector dogs designated for service in Scotland (and elsewhere in the Northern Region) should be located in Hull or Manchester. The journey times from either of these locations to Aberdeen, Inverness or Scrabster, not to mention Kirkwall or Sumburgh, can be lengthy and might, in these circumstances, raise questions concerning animal welfare. Furthermore, as PCS suggested, dog use was not efficient as an emergency procedure. Rather its value lie in being permanently available on a long-term basis for 'cold pulls'. The effective use of dogs at Dover was noted.[52] The reintroduction of a Customs dog service to Scotland would assist efforts to combat the introduction of contraband, including improperly imported currency and meat. Random drugs detection at points of entry (whether this comes within the ambit of a police or a Customs responsibility) should not be left to local people attempting to prevent further blight on their community, who might face legal complications. Policing of this nature should by its nature be provided by the proper public authority. There should unquestionably be detector dogs located in Scotland at a level to be determined.



23. A well-organised, modern and flexible intelligence provision assisted by state of the art technology is a major ingredient in the fight against drug smuggling in particular. But it is not the only one. During the inquiry we reached the clear conclusion that special circumstances, such as accidents of geography, require special consideration. Scotland has an abundance of isolated coastal areas. It also has a strategic location in the North Atlantic. Although we accept the point made by HMCE that matters requiring an urgent Customs attendance in remote areas was rare,[53] logistical or weather constraints inherent in Scotland might well inhibit a rapid response by a mobile Customs squad.

24. A visible Customs presence is both comforting to communities who are aware of being vulnerable to smugglers looking for new points of entry and a deterrent to those potential transgressors not necessarily entangled in the malignant web of organised crime. PCS spoke of the duty of HMCE to "provide sufficient service to give confidence to local communities".[54] HMCE referred to the exercise of its social responsibilities.[55] An absence of uniformed officers over a period of time is quickly noticed in a climate where drug use and illegal tobacco imports are increasing and trafficking is profitable. Even the desperate amateur smuggler might be encouraged to chance her luck if the prospects of being apprehended were seen to be small. HMCE admitted the difficulty in striking an appropriate balance between the priorities of an intelligence-led service and the deterrent effect of visible uniformed staff.[56]


25. The overall picture too can be lost or distorted by a tunnel-vision concentration on targets.[57] This might lead to a concerted effort to acquire large, high profile seizures, at the expense of smaller supplies which continue to contaminate communities. PCS drew our attention to this possibility.[58] At the same time, it supported the need for HMCE to concentrate its attention on the major airports.[59] HMCE said it had "stopped just talking about outputs". Attention was now directed towards outcomes. [60]

26. PCS complimented HMCE on its ability to make the maximum use of limited means.

"Customs and Excise is doing all that is possible with the resources, equipment and intelligence it has. Year on year, its performance gets better and better. However, there is a limit to how much you can improve your performance on the amount of resources that you have available."[61]

We support an intelligence-led Customs service, but not at the expense of all else. Accordingly, we recommend that HMCE should seek to supplement its approach to law enforcement in Scotland by increasing the number of occasions on which staff are on duty at strategic points. An important weapon in the fight against contraband should involve the strategy of anticipating likely avenues which traffickers might seek to explore next and putting into place appropriate procedures to deter them. We believe that prevention is better than cure. A frequent high profile Customs presence should be apparent in parts of Scotland where discernible risks of smuggling activity can be demonstrated. Such a move would require resources additional to those provided in the 2002 Budget. We ask the Government to make them available.


36   Ev 17, para 20. Back

37   Qq10 to 13. See also Q18 and Q19. Back

38   Q62. Back

39   Q74. Back

40   Ev 3, para 25. Back

41   Q40. Back

42   IbidBack

43   IbidBack

44   IbidBack

45   IbidBack

46   Q57. Back

47   IbidBack

48   Ev 17, para 19. Back

49   IbidBack

50   Passive in this sense means the dog quietly registers its sense that drugs might be present. Back

51   Q51. Back

52   Q96. Back

53   Q57. Back

54   Q93. Back

55   Q4. Back

56   Q7. Back

57   Q69. Back

58   Q62. Back

59   Q62 and Q64. Back

60   Q22. Back

61   Q82. Back

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Prepared 16 May 2002