Here is a bit more on the story featured in the cartoon box slot because this is a very serious subject and there wasn't room in my 335-word box (presentation is important on pages as well as in shops, you know) for some important details.

When Customs confiscated, Hans appealed. The appeals department of HMRC has decided that customs officials acted correctly and it will go to court unless Hans removes his appeal. If he doesn't appeal, the stock will be destroyed (worth about £1,700). If he loses his case he will lose the stock and will have to pay about another £1,500 towards court costs. They make it sound like a lose-lose scenario.

I consulted my 'northern correspondent' Glyn Reece for an independent retailer's view and he took the trouble to quiz Booker on the subject (much quicker than me going through the press office system!). Glyn writes that Booker confirms that shoddy printing and dodgy logos are the first signs: "But the HMRC 'duty paid' stamp only applies to spirits for which the abv is above 20%. Large companies such as Booker have weekly meetings with HMRC to ensure that the stock they buy is 'kosher'."

He adds that parts of the North East unfortunately have a reputation for illegally imported goods. Glyn's advice, like the solicitor's, was to sue the supplier and I have suggested that Hans should do this even if the company has done a runner. It should impress the court.

I urge you all to take a close look at your supplier. Glyn says that his 'man' at Booker tells him that their profit is just a few £s per pallet to maintain margins for the indies against the big five. It's unlikely that a smaller outfit (such as the Darlington Dodgem) could undercut them without it appearing 'not quite right'.

Glyn adds: "Mind youTesco selling Artois at 69p per pint isn't for the common good either, despite reporting in The Grocer last month that they would not sell beer as a loss leader. The rrp for a 586ml (pint) can is £1.80."

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