How Customs saw right through it
PUBLISHED: 17:12 17 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:11 03 March 2010
WEEKS after a mobile multi-million pound X-ray machined arrived at Felixstowe port, the hi-powered customs weapon recouped nearly all its value when it detected a huge haul of smuggled cigarettes.
WEEKS after a mobile multi-million pound X-ray machined arrived at Felixstowe port, the hi-powered customs weapon recouped nearly all its value when it detected a huge haul of smuggled cigarettes. Crime reporter LISA BAXTER looked at the background to the first detection in Britain by one of a new breed of super-scanners aimed at clamping down on the bootleg business.
IT took the giant sized X-ray machine just seconds to scan the container at Felixstowe docks and reveal millions of smuggled cigarettes clumsily stashed inside.
Customs investigators pulled aside the 40-foot container, labeled "personal effects", for a routine search only to find it three-quarters full of bootleg Spanish tobacco.
The search took just a matter of minutes as the massive scanner (one of three introduced to Britain at the end of 2000) exposed six million smuggled smokes worth just under £1million in tax revenue which would have been lost had the contraband got past customs and onto Britain's black market.
Suspicions about the dodgy cargo were likely to have been raised by the fact that the giant container which arrived on the mv OPDR Tanger from Tenerife was signed for by someone claiming to live in High Street, Chiswick, West London - a road that did not even exist.
The scanner quickly showed something was wrong with the load and behind a row of empty boxes were piled thousands of boxes of Spanish brand smokes Belmont, Viceroy, Paramont, Golden American and Palace.
Shipping agents then answered a call from a man calling himself John Murphy and asking about the progress of the container on behalf of his mother - the woman who supposedly owned the "personal effects".
Customs officers traced the call to a home in Wells, Somerset, but there was no sign of anyone called John Murphy at the property. Instead, they found a telephone number on a crumpled up note that traced to a business in Wells.
Investigations at the business revealed the number related to a company's fax machine which an employee had allowed her ex-boyfriend Kevin Lovell to receive a fax on. Lovell lived in Tenerife where he owned a bar, the woman said and she confirmed receiving a fax containing a customs declaration on his behalf.
And it turned out that Lovell was staying temporarily at the Wells address where the call from "John Murphy" asking about the container had been made.
Lovell was arrested for his part in the smuggling scam but claimed a man called John Murphy, whom he met in Tenerife, had stayed with him at the Wells property at the time the call was made. The pair had played golf and Murphy asked him if he knew anyone who could receive a fax on his behalf, Lovell said, attempting to distance himself from the smuggling plot.
Murphy asked him to deposit cash in a Somerset bank while he waited in the car, Lovell told customs investigators. He said Murphy had left part of the paying-in slip incomplete so he had had to fill in the missing parts - an attempt to explain away his handwriting on the form.
Father-of-four Lovell told investigators he did not know where Murphy lived, his telephone number or how to get hold of him, and Murphy has never been traced.