Customs attacked on all fronts for non-disclosure in hearings

Customs & Excise is being sued by one of its former senior lawyers for the way he was allegedly treated during the London City Bond (LCB) cases.

DLA partner Richard Smyth, lawyer for the ex-Customs solicitor Gordon Smith, confirmed that his client was pursuing his previous employer for alleged stress-related injuries during the LCB litigation.

Manchester-based Smyth specialises in health and safety prosecutions and large-scale fraud.

It also emerged that a string of criminal appeals are due to be heard in the next few weeks relating to allegations that Customs failed to disclose important evidence.

Customs’ failure to disclose was the reason for the collapse of the LCB cases in 2002, which centred on allegations of duty fraud at an East London bonded warehouse. A review was then set up to look into the collapse of the prosecutions and review the practice of Customs in such investigations.

This led to the publishing of recommendations by High Court judge Mr Justice Butterfield that Customs’ prosecution and investigation arms should be separated. The recommendations are due to come into force at the end of 2004.

Smith, who was a senior lawyer of the Specialist Casework Unit in Customs’ Manchester office, is set to have his claim heard at the High Court in London after it was originally set for Manchester County Court. Customs is understood to have applied for the case to be heard in private.

One of the unrelated pending Court of Appeal cases concerns a Customs operation codenamed ‘Methusalah’. It led to eight individuals being convicted in 2000 for duty fraud at bonded warehouses around the UK. All eight men allege that their convictions were unfair, as Customs had allegedly failed to disclose important evidence.

The appellants are being represented by Matthew Frankland, a partner at London law firm Byrne and Partners. Frankland also acted for several defendants in the LCB cases.

Alleged failure to disclose is also at the heart of a further unrelated forthcoming appeal by disgraced former solicitor Louis Glatt, also represented by Frankland.

Ex-owner of a one-partner practice in Mayfair, Glatt was convicted in July 2001 of one count of conspiracy to launder money between October 1994 and January 1997. He was also subjected to a confiscation order in 2002 to the tune of £3.6m.

Customs declined to comment on any of these cases, including Smith’s civil claim, on the grounds that they are subject to ongoing litigation.

Meanwhile, ruling several weeks ago, the Court of Appeal held that three men convicted of conspiracy to import cannabis – Stephen Mee, Francis Little and Daniel Little – were to be released after it was discovered that Customs investigators failed “to make adequate disclosure of material” during the earlier trial.

The Court of Appeal heard that Customs had failed to disclose the fact that a co-defendant turned supergrass had expected “a substantial reward and other benefits for giving evidence, contrary to the impression given by the disclosed documents”.