Valley Friends November: Forty Years Catching Smugglers

From Joan Steel

On Friday 5th November, Malcolm Nelson gave a very interesting and humorous talk about his career as one of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Officers.  He described it as 40 years of excitement, comedy, tragedy, and unusual happenings, while meeting and working with amazing people.  On retirement, Malcolm said he felt a great sense of achievement.  He is now enjoying lecturing to holidaymakers on cruise liners.

Malcolm outlined what makes a good Customs Officer.  It is mainly experience gained on the job, but initially training programmes have to be attended.  Malcolm joined the trainees at the Waterguard Training Centre in Southend.  He learned that Customs Officers have to have inquiring minds, they have to cope with a range of communication techniques, and that catching smugglers is a quite scientific operation.  The trainees are warned never to trust anyone in a suit, but also never to under estimate them.  After training, Malcolm was issued with his Commission.  He worked in a team led by an Alpha 1 Officer who had a balance sheet and sat at a desk.  Drug smugglers often work in teams, and amazingly 80% of all drugs entering Britain come via Heathrow, the reason being that the turnaround time there can be  as low as 30 minutes, and “time is money”.  Detection information teams look at passenger lists and track those who are travelling from countries where drugs are more commonplace, eg Bolivia, Islamabad, Mombasa, the Caribbean etc.  The officers ask some passengers where they bought their tickets, and find out what are the present trends in drugs.  They look at luggage and get tarmac officers to feel for double skins on cases where things can be hidden.   The smell of drugs can be disguised, but 30-35%o of sniffer dogs on the team will find them; the dog can also sniff money and swallowed drugs.

Women who travel alone can be suspect, as often their only reason to travel is to smuggle. This type of passenger will always lie when detected.  The experienced smuggler will always act calmly and sometimes is too calm which raises suspicion.  Some drugs are carried under wigs, and amazingly some wigs are sewn to the scalp which are very difficult to detect.  Finding out is what experience tells you, then look at trends and profiles.  Some businessmen may be carrying many clothes in their luggage but look shabby, which arouses suspicion and ‘expats’ look like out of date holidaymakers – they just don’t know what they should look like, so again something is not quite right.  Malcolm told us many other Interesting stories and ways that smugglers disguise what they are carrying, like the lady carrying a very heavy case which was full of stitched up bananas.  Malcolm has written a book about his experiences, copies of which were on sale for £10.  Malcolm was thanked and applauded for a very interesting evening.

On December 2nd we have an evening of entertainment by the Aca-Holics Barbershop Quartet.

With Best Wishes to you all for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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