Have you got the beer in for the World Cup? Has the duty on it been paid? If you're anywhere near Darlington, double-check. But, how exactly do you check?

As I write this, Hans Kukreja is trying to decide whether to go to court to try to prevent 96 crates of Carling, Fosters and Kestrel being destroyed following a Customs' swoop on his store, Parkway News. Hans is struggling to understand why they confiscated the stuff when all his paperwork was in order, with the VAT paid on it. The stock didn't look in the least dodgy and he had no way of knowing that his supplier was suspected of not paying the duty on it.

The beer was delivered all over Darlington by the same supplier that Hans had used for three years. The past tense may be correct here because when Hans tried to pursue the supplier it was no longer trading from the unit it had previously occupied. Whether it had already been nicked by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the authorities are not saying.

Hans consulted a solicitor who studied the letter (as did I) that he had received from HMRC's appeals department and he said it was clear they were within their rights to go to court. He advised suing the supplier a very good suggestion if only they hadn't moved, leaving Hans as the soft option for HMRC.

If Customs are going to hold retailers responsible for ensuring duty has been paid on goods, then they should require a duty paid stamp. HMRC has the 'right' to nick the victim rather than (or as well as) the culprit, but it should not take this soft option.

Okay, if the stock looks dodgy, if the supplier lurks around the corner in a white van, then the retailer shares some of the blame, but sometimes the stock itself isn't counterfeit and there is no clue to indicate to the retailer whether or not the duty has been paid.

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