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£1m in black-market alcohol seized

Smugglers trying to sell more than £1 million of cheap alcohol in the run-up to Christmas had their drinks seized before they could reach the black market, officials have said.

More than 300,000 litres of beer, cider, wine and spirits were held at ports across the south of England in the last week of November alone, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) said.

Carole Upshall, UKBA regional director, warned criminals were "trying to exploit the pressure on household finances by offering cheap booze in the lead-up to Christmas".

"It is perfectly legitimate to shop in Europe and bring back alcohol for yourself, but anyone who smuggles alcohol is effectively stealing from the public purse and from law-abiding taxpayers," she said.

"The money from this kind of smuggling is often recycled into other forms of organised crime."

The smugglers would have avoided paying more than £900,000 in excise duty and VAT if their scam had been a success, the UKBA said.

Bob Gaiger, of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), added: "Alcohol smuggling lines the pockets of criminals and deprives honest retailers of legitimate business."

The haul of alcohol found at Dover, Poole and Tilbury - which included more than 80,000 litres of Italian wine, almost 14,000 litres of vodka and more than 180,000 litres of beer - will now be turned into fertiliser, while the packaging will be recycled, the UKBA said.

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