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Published:  23 July, 2008

HM Customs & Excise stands accused by a UK shipper of unreasonably detaining and damaging 300 cases of wine. David Woodward, owner of Catchpole & Froggit in Orsett, Essex, told Harpers that he will be claiming thousands of pounds in compensation from C&E, describing the fiasco as the most outrageous, ridiculous thing I've come across in 30 years in the trade. I very rarely get angry about anything,' he said. But I'm so incensed I felt I had to bring it to the industry's attention.' Woodward's battle started on 24 July, when C&E intercepted the shipment at Dover because it was addressed to his head office rather than his bonded warehouse, London City Bond (LCB). He accepts that there was a mistake in the paperwork, and that C&E was justified in pointing it out, but alleges that the action subsequently taken was unfair and vindictive. Woodward claims that although the producer which dispatched the shipment arranged for the 5,000 in duty and VAT to be paid through the back system', a form of money transfer which would have guaranteed receipt in two working days, C&E refused to release the wine, even though it knew the money was in transit. It also refused to confirm the exact location of the shipment, or to offer any reassurance regarding proper storage. Meanwhile, commission-based sales staff and customers were complaining about non-delivery. The wine was not delivered to LCB until almost three weeks later (14 August), when staff there informed Woodward that around one-third of it was smashed or in some other way unusable. Woodward suspects the proportion of spoiled wine may be even higher than suggested by LCB: If it's not all heat-damaged, I'll be astonished,' he said. Looking back over the saga, Woodward said: I can't believe the treatment that's been dished out to me. A C&E officer established in 30 seconds flat that we were bona fide. But some tin-pot bureaucrat went bananas, and thought to teach us a lesson. C&E tells me they don't have the manpower to catch the smugglers. But they do have the manpower to tell me that the LCB address isn't in the right box. They're penalising me as if I was the criminal. They're biting away at an industry that's already been cut to the quick.'