8 March 2002

Blind eye to illegal meat?

By Mike Stones

BAGGAGE handlers at Heathrow airport have been ordered to ignore suitcases stuffed with illegal meat, claims Clive Lawrance.

"Some handling companies have warned staff to turn a blind eye to suspect suitcases, even if they are dripping blood and reeking of rotting meat," Mr Lawrance, managing director of freight handling company Ciel Logistics told farmers weekly.

Some handling companies can be reluctant to alert the authorities to smuggled meat because they fear the airlines might terminate their handling contracts, he said.

Mr Lawrance further suspects some staff are paid hush money by smuggling gangs to ignore illegal meat. "Professional traffickers are responsible for most of illegal meat smuggled through Heathrow. I have little proof, but I would be amazed if some bags which should be reported are not nodded through for back-handers."

He also remembers being asked to deal with impounded bags containing smuggled meat that disappeared from a secure area. "How can bags can go missing from a secure area unless someone with security clearance took them?" he asked.

Mr Lawrance added that smuggled meat was a well-known problem at Heathrow: "One trade union official told me illegal meat has been coming into Britain for 30 years."

But union officials and DEFRA deny the allegations. A spokesman for the Transport and General Workers Union, whose members include baggage handlers at Heathrow, said: "We are not aware of any pressure exerted directly or indirectly (to ignore smuggled meat)."

A DEFRA spokesman also said he had not heard of such allegations. "The fact that since last April, 1100 consignments totalling 46t of animal products had been seized throughout the UK showed stuff was being detected," he added.

Customs and Excise said it was not its responsibility to search for illegal meat. "We do not go out and look for smuggled meat but we have a commitment to help DEFRA when asked to do so."