Freight teams were committed and adept at locating smuggled goods, but a breakdown in relations at the front line had resulted in financial penalties and prosecutions not being used effectively to deter smugglers, and large seizures of tobacco and alcohol not being investigated or prosecuted. These were the findings in the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s report into Freight operations.
Every day, significant volumes of freight enter and leave UK ports and airports. The job of Border Force (BF) is to use its intelligence capability and expertise to select and examine those consignments that represent the biggest threat to our borders and to ensure that those threats are mitigated. At the same time the free flow of trade, which is essential to the UK economy, must not be interrupted. The scale of this challenge is significant.
This inspection focused upon how well BF identifies risks to border security, how effective physical controls were, and how much of a deterrent to criminals BF interventions were. It also examined the relationship between BF and HM’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), who work together in the area of Freight.
The Chief Inspector was pleased to find:
• freight teams were adept at locating smuggled goods within freight. This was reflected in combined HMRC and BF alcohol and tobacco seizures which rose steadily in the three year period between April 2010 and March 2013;
• knowledgeable, professional and committed staff, who were performing many aspects of their roles to a high standard;
• the work of a number of specialist teams had delivered excellent results, and several high performing teams had been recognised as international leaders in their fields;
• BF enjoyed a positive relationship with its key stakeholders, namely port authorities.
However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:
• whilst BF and HMRC enjoyed a strong relationship at a senior level, this was not the case at the front line and resulted in inefficiency and a breakdown of process;
• on key deterrents such as financial penalties and prosecutions:
- BF had only referred one in four cases to HMRC for consideration of a financial penalty; and
- only four out of nine cases, involving detections of commercial quantities of excise goods, were adopted for criminal investigation/prosecution.
• the lack of assurance activity within BF meant it was difficult for senior managers to demonstrate that all cases were being appropriately referred for criminal investigation;
• only 1% of 43,000 low risk consignment selected by BF, resulted in a positive detection, resulting in wasted time and effort in the examination of these consignments;
• BF was not meeting its mandatory requirement to physically examine Route 2 consignments. In 2012 over 2,500 Route 2 consignments (68%) were not examined. This meant that opportunities to detect illegal or fraudulent imports, and gather intelligence, had been lost;
• the application of PACE and arrest procedures were not being assured by managers. The inspection revealed a breach of the PACE in two out of eighteen cases where individuals were denied certain rights after they were arrested;
• approximately 70% of operational staff working in BF freight were over the age of forty. Whilst this means that BF can draw on a hugely experienced workforce, the future risk to the business is significant, in terms of lost skills and experience;
• record keeping was poor, with no audit trail of actions taken. This made it difficult in many cases to determine whether staff had in fact followed policy and guidance;
The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:
“The control of freight at airports and seaports requires a range of organisations to work effectively together. I found Border Force staff employed in freight were committed and passionate about their roles despite having to work in challenging conditions.
Financial penalties and prosecutions are powerful weapons in the war against smugglers. However, a breakdown in communication between Border Force and HMRC at an operational level meant BF was not referring suitable cases to HMRC for financial penalties to be issued to potential smugglers. I also found that large seizures of cigarettes and alcohol were not being investigated or prosecuted.
I was extremely concerned that my inspection identified a breach of the PACE Act in two cases where individuals were denied certain rights after they were arrested.
There is work to be done at a senior level to ensure that Border Force and HMRC are working together effectively at an operational level and staff are adhering to guidance.”
The Chief Inspector made 11 recommendations for improvement including, BF and HMRC strengthen the lines of communications between their organisations, the Home Office meeting its obligation to physically examine all Route 2 alerts and the Home Office developing a strategy to address the issue of an aging workforce.