Customs Seizures Archive

 Seizures and Guidelines Before 2000



Customs Seizures & Guidelines up to 2000

HMRC logoCustoms are a law unto themselves as you pass through the red/green channels. If they say something is obscene then it is obscene. There is very little you can practically do about it.

In autumn of 2000 Customs eased up a fair bit and the seizures outlined in this page all pre-date these changes.

Anyway, as something of a public service I shall try and collate a list of films that have offended the most arbitrary of censors in the land. 

 

Allowances

Just a note that may be of use when importing videos etc via the post . If the value is less than £18 there is no duty to pay. (If the goods are unsolicited gifts there is no duty to pay until the value reaches £36) . The limit is £145 if you are personally importing the goods (ie travelling with them).

Law

Another very important consideration is that Customs are allowed to confiscate (ie steal) an entire consignment if any part of that consignment is judged obscene. This applies to both postal packets and good you are carrying with you. Therefore do not take unnecessary risks by packaging up mainstream films with those that Customs are likely to have problems with.

After having got through the red and green channels, the nightmare does not stop there. The "Writ of Assistance" gives Customs a carte blanche to enter any home without judicial approval and seize anything they believe to have been imported contrary to a prohibition.

To be knowingly concerned with the importation of obscene material is a criminal offence, Another offence is possession of imported obscene material, even if the importation has occurred somewhere higher up the distribution chain, even without even knowing it. Police, or customs officers would be well within their rights to kick down the front door of the customer at 6 in the morning, and search the premisies. It's a stupid law I know, but it's one that the police do enforce.

Porn (Prior to the Updated Guidelines from Autumn 2000)

Customs maintained a total prohibition on hardcore material except for a tolerance on personal imports of up to 3 magazines.

 

Seizures: Films/Disks/Videos

Alice, Sweet Alice
aka
  • Communion
  • Holy Terror
Unbelievable seizure by customs. Innocuous thriller with Brooke Shields.

Has recently been passed for video with 3s of cuts (18 certificate)

Andy Warhol's Bad Posted on usenet: A friend of mine had a home visit by 2 HMC&E officers when he tried importing a copy of ANDY WARHOL'S BAD!!! For the record they were polite, asked a few questions, told him they were seizing the film and gave the impression they would rather be doing something worthwhile.
Anphropaghous 2000 1 report of seizure
Bare Behind Bars Banned by the BBFC but at least it was close enough to be submitted
Behind the Green Door Porn classic
A Blade in the Dark By Lamberto Bava, uncut Belgian version
Blood Feast 1963 film by Herschell Gordon Lewis
The Boogey Man June 1999: 1 x DVD opened & let through
Bride of Chucky No reports of seizure

Total of 3 reports of it being opened and let through

May 1999: DVD opened & let through
June 1999: DVD opened & let through
July 1999: DVD opened & let through

Bride of Frank June 1999: 1 x opened & let through
The Burning 1 x opened & let through
Cafe Flesh Hardcore cult classic
Caligula The uncut version, I have also heard a report where the uncut version was let through even after the package had been intercepted.
Cannibal Holocaust 5 reports of seizure so far, 3 for the laserdisc version, 1 for the Dutch video version

August 1999: 1 x seizure

City of the Living Dead Total of 2 reports of seizure

March 1999: 1 x seizure
June 1999: 1 x seizure

Clockwork Orange Total of 2 reports of opened & let through

Seized and returned once, opened and let through once, so appears acceptable for import.

June 1999: 1 x opened & let through

Dawn of the Dead Total of 7 reports of seizure

Total of 1 report opened & let through

'the 140m version' seized
Collectors edition laserdisc seized
March 1999: Collectors edition laserdisc seized
June 1999: 4 x Director's Cut seized, 1 x opened & let through

Day of the Dead July 1999: 1 x seizure
Deadbeat at Dawn June 1999: 1 x opened & let through
Death Trap March 1999: 1 report of seizure
Demons July 1999: 1 x seziure of DVD
Demons 2 July 1999: 1 x seziure of DVD
Doom Generation June 1999: 1 x opened & let through
Driller Killer 1 x seizure
Eaten Alive 2 reports so far
The Evil Dead Classic teen slasher with a sense of fun. A heavily cut version has an 18 certificate

4 x reports of the uncut version being seized

3 x report of Special edition being opened and let through

Evil Dead Trap
aka
  • Shiryo no wana
2 x seizure

May 1999: 1 report of seizure
August 1999: 1 report of seizure

Evil Streets US film by Joseph Zaso

April 1999: 1 x report of seizure

The Exorcist 3 x opened and let through, so appears acceptable for import.
Faces of Death 2 Quasi documentary about miscellaneous deaths
Femmine 1988 Italian  film by Lorenzo Onorati.
The Films of Irving Klaw Mild bondage, also banned by the BBFC

June 1999: 1 x seized

5 Dead on the Crimson Canvas US film by Joseph Zaso

April 1999: 1 x report of seizure

Flesh for Frankenstein Uncut DVD opened and let through
Guilty Pleasures US film by Joseph Zaso

April 1999: 1 x report of seizure

Guinea Pig June 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through (Customs surely must have not twigged what the film was about)
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer June 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through: NTSC US version
House By The Cemetery Total of 2 reports of sezire

Greek version seized
June 1999: 1 x report of seizure

House on the Edge of The Park The Dutch version
I Spit on Your Grave By Meir Zarchi

2 uncut Dutch release seized, 1 US DVD seized

2 reports of opened and let through

Island of 1000 Delights
aka
  • Insel der tausend Freuden
1978 German film by Hubert Frank
Jungle Holocaust
aka
  • Carnivorous
  • The Last Cannibal World
  • The Last Survivor
  • Cannibal
  • Ultimo Mondo Cannibale
1978 Italian film by Ruggero Deodato

The Dutch version was seized

Last House on The Left The Dutch version
Maniac One copy opened and let through

Even the soundtrack CD for is apparently proving troublesome in the UK spotted in an advert:

This is he most amazingly packaged CD we've ever seen. Starting with a really glossy fold out cover complete with graphic pictures; the CD contains the soundtrack music by Jay Chattaway; plus hundreds of stills (eg of a decapitated Joe Spinelli), web links, trailers and Quicktime gore scenes to play on your PC/Mac. In fact we hear from William Lustig that U.K. customs have even taken a disliking to the CD.

Men Behind the Sun 1 x report of seizure (Cult Video)
Mondo Cane 3 (?) Uncut Dutch version
Mother's Day June 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through
Naked Killer July 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through
The New York Ripper By Lucio Fulci, the uncut Dutch release

1 x report of opened & let through
1 x report of seizure

Nightdreams The Dutch version of the porn classic
Opera By Dario Argento, 2 reports so far (Czech version)
Phenomena
aka
  • Creepers
By Dario Argento, uncut Dutch release

One copy was opened and let through.

The Prowler June 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through
Rabid Dogs July 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through
Re-Animator NTSC laserdisc (Note that this disc gets a very mixed reception from differing customs offices, see letter below).

1 report of opened and let through

Revenge of the Living Zomies 1 report of seizure
Russian Mafia: The Violent Crimes of Russian Mafia Well if anyone can tell me what this compilation of Russian TV news has done to offend the undie sifters let me know. They appear to have sunk to even lower depths tha even I had thought possible.
Sex & Zen July 1999: 1 x report of opened & let through
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom
aka
  • Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma
  • Salo ou les 120 journees de Sodome
2 reports of opened and let through
Shatter Dead Customs showed their overly suspicious and censorial stance by seizing the copy of the film bound for the BBFC. The BBFC eventually got hold of the copy and cut it by a mere 26s.
Sleepaway Camp
aka
  • Nightmare Vacation
July 1999: 1 x seizure
The Story of Rikki Surprisingliy, 1 x report of being opened and let through
Straw Dogs A total of 5 reports of disk being inspected and let through

June 1999: 1 x report of DVD opened and let through

Suspiria This has since received a certificate for the uncut version, I trust Customs will either return the tape or provide compensation.
Sweet House of Horrors 1 x report of Lucio Fulci's film being opened and let through
Tenebrae 3 reports of seizure

April 1999: A shipment of 10 DVDs was intercepted and seized on the way to a dealer
July 1999: 1 x seizure of DVD

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 report of opened and let through
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Total of 3 reports of seizure

Total of 1 report of it being opened and let through

June 1999: 1 x seized, 1 x opened & let through

Thundercrack Hardcore cult classic

Total of 2 reports of seizure

June 1999: seized

Tokyo Decadence Cult classic with some explict material

Total of 2 reports of seizure

June 1999: seized

Untold Story July 1999: 1 report of it being opened & let through
Urotsukidoji 3 The uncut version
Urotsukidoji 4  
Zombie Flesh Eaters
aka
  • Zombie
  • Zombie 2: The Dead are Among Us
  • Zombi 2
  • Island of the Living Dead
  • Gli Ultimi Zombi
  • Sanguelia
Total of 2 reports of seizure

Total of 3 reports of it being opened and let through

April 1999: DVD opened & let through

 

Seizures: Books/Magazines

Torso Seized by customs in a package with a video of I Spit on Your Grave

 

Hustler (US Edition) A regular subscriber to the US editions of Hustler & High Society reported that mags had regularly been received for 8 years up until about October 1998. The next 4 or 5  issues were thieved  but deliveries resumed from the February 1999  issue. One of these later copies had been opened and resealed by Customs.

This break in shipments seems to coincide with the news that Hustler started including some images of penetration.

 

The Masquerade Books Catalogue Confiscated by the undie sifters on the grounds that it contains "obscene material". Of course Customs did not give details of exactly what they objected to but it is thought that it was a set of illustrations by Michael Manning. The case was not contested by the distributors on the grounds that they had just wasted money on trying to overturn a previous customs seizure. Customs therefore took advantage of this and have banned all further importation of the catalogue into the UK.

 

Custom's Shopping List of Supposedly Obscene Acts (Used Until 2000)

 

The following article was written prior to the acceptance of adult consensual porn in autumn 2000

 

 

The UK regulation of pornography import is a disgrace. It is implemented in a manner more akin to Soviet style policing rather than that expected of a liberal democracy.  Customs have a secret list of things that they find supposedly obscene. The public are deliberately not made aware of the contents of such a list and get no guidelines whatsoever on what they are allowed to import. Of course the penalty for overstepping this secret line is truely gruesome and involves house raids, prison sentences etc.

Anyway, a recent edition of BBC's Panorama included an interview with a customs officer (complete with officious Soviet style minder hovering in the background to ensure that the interviewee did not say too much). The interview included a brief shot of the customs shopping list (titled Appendix F). Observant viewers were able to make out much of the list.

 

anal fisting Putting a fist in the anus for sexual gratification
analingus Oral contact with the anus
bestiality Sexual acts between humans and animals
bondage Tying a subject (usually female) in an unatural posistion for sexual gratification
buggery  
coprophilia An unatural interest in excretement which causes sexual arousal
cunnilingus Oral contact with the female genitals by a male or female
defacation Voiding excretement from the bowels
domination Putting a companion in a humiliating situation, eg on a dog lead, for sexual gratification
ejaculation Discharge of semen at the point of orgasm
enemas Flushing the bowels with water, usually to drink the product or torture the victim
fellation See "Anal" and "Vaginal"
insertion of an object Putting an object, eg a dildo or a vibrator in the vagina or anus for sexual stimulation
intercourse  
masochism See "Sado-Masochism"
masturbation Achieving orgasm through manual atimulation of the genitals by yourself or your partner
necrophilia Sexual intercourse with a corpse
paedophilia Erotic love for a child by an adult, sometimes involving coercion and abuse. Also refers to the material and paraphernalia used by a paedophile
sadism See "Sado-masochism"
sadomasochism Sadism" and "Masochism" are very general terms which may be summed up as follows. A sadist achieves sexual pleasure through inflicting torture and humiliation upon another person, the "sex object". Conversely, a masochist desires maltreatment as a means of sexual gratification.
scatology Eating excretement for sexual stimulation and gratification. See "Coprophilia"
troilism Sexual activity in groups of three. Nowadays it is generally accepted that it refers to groups of three or more.
urolagnia Sexual gratification in watching a person urinate, being urinated upon, or urinating on someone else. Also the drinking of urine, usually as it is being produced.
use of any object to attain sexual gratification
vaginal fisting Putting a fist in the vagina for sexual gratification.
 

The list is further discussed in the book Pornocopia by Laurence O'Toole (Serpents Tail: ISBN 1-85242-395-1)

 

 

Contributions

A Rare Victory against HM Customs

HMRC logoAlthough Customs have generally got the system stitched up massively in their favour they have occasionally failed to get their way. The stitch up seems to work as follows:

  1. Customs arbitrarily decide whether that goods are obscene.
  2. Customs give you the following options: Either agree not to contest the confiscation in which case the matter goes no further or contest the decision in the magiststrates court where the downside is a potential prison sentence. Guess which option most people elect? Of course this then means that Customs don't receive much feedback on what is considered obscene.
  3. If one proceeds onto the magistrates court one finds that magistrates are not generally noted for their liberal attitudes towards porn and they tend to rubber stamp the decisions made by Customs.

So it was excellent to hear that the British artist, Brian Williams had gained a victory in the magistrates courts, the first success in a case of this type.

Brian Williams had shot a series of photographs during the making of the short film Stealth. The film is an exploration of auto-erotic death inspired by FBI crime scene shots. The film is said to be neutral in tone and merely investigates in a form that is neither documentary nor drama. The images are very clearly fakes. They depict death scenes, bloodstains, bondage equipment, and body outlines on the floor.

The police were aware of the work and had previously asked the artist to remove the pictures from public view at an art show. Perhaps the artist had therefore got on some customs black list because the photos were seized at Heathrow from a courier company bringing them back from the US.

Some of the pictures were declared obscene without ever justifying their criteria, Customs then tried several times to get the artist to agree to their destruction without going to court but the artist would have none of it. In fact Customs were so sure that the case would not be contested that when the day of the trial came, Customs had to ask for an adjournment as they had not prepared a case.

Customs then predictable upped the charge to "Knowingly importing obscene material" carrying a possible prison sentence. This appears to be pure intimidation as the charge was lowered to a lesser one minutes before the trial.

The trial was won with the assistance of a clever barrister who put the Customs officer on the spot by asking him to decide from a series of images which were obscene. These included mainstream advertising pictures, those freely on sale in bookshops, pictures from the collection that had previously been returned and of course those retained Customs. The officer failed the test and coupled with a failure in their argument that the pictures were obscene if taken out of context this led to a verdict of no case to answer. Customs were ordered to return the pictures and pay the defence costs. In a final irony they did not even know of the procedure to return the photos. The loss of a case had never been known before.

Something Weird about Customs

Thanks to Steve
I had a package from Something Weird USA seized a few years ago. The tapes included Amuck, Godmonster of Indian Flats  Moonlighting Wives (Joe Sarno), Necromania (Ed Wood), Beautiful, the Bloody and the Bare and Tonight I'll Possess Your Corpse (Coffin Joe).

I'm always careful with titles I order from abroad and so was pretty surprised that these titles were deemed obscene. I phoned customs who told me the tapes contained scenes of extreme violence to humans and animals and insertion of objects into a vagina.

The guy at S.W told me this was bollocks so I wrote a long letter to customs detailing the content of each title (with the help of SW and various books and mags). I told them that I was intending to appeal and requested they provide a breakdown of the 'obscenities' contained in each tape.

A few weeks passed without reply so I rang Customs. I spoke to a senior examiner who said that he'd checked the tapes himself and released them. I even got written confirmation of the decision. The tone was not apologetic but more "be careful sonny".

Bonfire of the Videos

Letter in Sight & Sound from Gary Ford

I thought your readers might be interested in the following.

HM Customs has decided that Jean-Luc Godard has made an obscene film. I refer to a confiscated DVD I had imported from the US, namely Prenom Carmen (First Name Carmen). This I find extraordinary as I already possess the video issued with a UK certificate 18 by Artificial Eye. Also seized were Boiling Point, Les Diaboliques, Tales of Ordinary Madness, In the Realm of the Senses, Tenebrae and others. These items will be destroyed unless I appeal (which I am doing). This is the equivalent of book burning, surely.

By the way, HM Customs decided that Straw Dogs (Peckinpah) is not obscene (although it has been  'banned' on video for years) or my uncut copies of The Driller Killer, and Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Fleash Eaters). Just what  state is our state in?

 

Consistant Thieving

Spotted on usenet:

Customs could operate a 'whitelist' of films they know are OK, to include all films with BBFC certificates. Surely this would actually speed up their procedures. As I understood it, Customs are obliged to operate this way in order to comply with the European Court of Justice ruling in Conegate and perhaps one or two other cases. That is, the ECJ ruled that Customs can only stop imports of material the production and inland distribution of which would be banned -- and banned in practice, not just in theory. The ECJ also ruled that Customs must be consistent; that is they must not stop a film at one time or place and let it through at another.

Has Customs compliance with these ECJ rulings been allowed to slacken? Is it time to take the government to the ECJ again, and this time demand a proper change in Customs law, which is what should have happened first time round, not just some feeble practice directive?

 

Illegal Seizure

I have been in touch with customs and excise about the recent seziure of some Vivid hardcore DVDs and put all the arguments to them. I wanted a list of the obscene 'activities' they viewed on my disks. They are going to send me one. They told me they can only legally release my DVDs after a court case has been won by me. The average cost (if the case is lost,) is between about three to five hundred pounds. So far a similar case has not yet been won in the magistrates court. I can choose to view my seized disks in London if I wish. but was told it would be 'advisable' to be accompanied by my legal representative. That of course would involve more expense (about £150 per hour)

Next of course, is the cost of an appeal if I lost.....

I told the man at customs that:

  1. The state is contravening my human rights to free expression. Everyone involved in this farce seems to be fully aware of this possibility, but they are "awaiting test cases." So the state can break the law until it is successfully prosecuted, because it knows that few people can afford to challenge it can it ? How on earth can the Home Office expect we 'subjects' to have any proper respect for the Rule Of Law, when they clearly seem to so openly break it themselves ? This seems to be an abuse of state power to me... Even more so by the fact that state employees so openly admit the possibility of their employer's possible contravention of the law...
  2. That the Home Office have told me, there is no real evidence that consensual adult pornography has ever depraved and corrupted anyone. The prohibition of it must therefore based on a total falsehood. Logically then, by the wording of the Obscene Publications Act my DVDs are not obscene because they don't deprave and corrupt.... To be honest I am unsure that the courts, (rather than proper study) should be the arbiter of what is, or isn't obscene and therefore will 'deprave and corrupt' adults...
  3. That similar explicit material is legally currently available within the United Kingdom under the R18 classification. I cited the
    video entitled Carnival the International Version which I bought from the local sex shop yesterday for a comparison of material I can only guess would be in the DVD, having seen other Vivid films... Strangely they list 'troilism' in the prohibition, but the chap said that it doesn't matter how many people take part in the prohibited scenes...

    They are interested in "acts of penetration and oral contact." The timing and length of scenes is an irrelevance to them. We don't sit there with a stop watch, he said

    The video Carnival contains both penetration and oral contact in similar explicit form, and has a BBFC certificate....

    The film clearly shows a number of activities which would be prohibited from importation they were visible in a European sex video. However there is a notable omission of any emission! That alone may be the only basis for prohibition of my DVDs.. according to their own standards..... (They have to allow imports from Europe any material which can be legally traded in the UK various sex toys, set a precedent as you know..)
  4. I also told him, that I currently utterly resent every single day that I have to spend in this sad little island......

The customs officer told me I should take the matter to court. In fact he positively encouraged it, because the outcome would be 'useful' to them. More excuses for them to break European (and soon British) law I'll bet... On the other hand, he did say I had put forward the strongest logical argument against them, he'd personally heard so far.........

 

Dover Complaints (spotted in the news groups)

You say you strongly resent the Brtish State seizing your DVDs. Some pretty strange things are going on at the Port of Dover and quite a number of complaints must be being made on matters like this. The one thing you can be sure of is that there is no avenue whereby you will be able to obtain any redress of grievance against HM Customs and you will be wasting your time pursuing the matter.

A couple of weeks ago when I passed through in addition to the five different types of official you have to deal with they have now introduced high tech scanning devices for number plates and faces. Citizens of the UK are arrested within the Port of Dover for merely questioning the rights of Officials.

Living in Northern France I strongly resent over the years being asked to account for my movements when I return into the UK by Customs Officers and I have complained repeatedly about the lack of politeness of those staff. Over the years nobody has bothered to even open my car boot and yet I am required to jump through verbal hoops. What has happened now is that rather than accepting these complaints at face value when I return from France to the UK. I have to face overt silly surveillance which has included trespass on my property and they do not care if I see them. If you complain you must be a criminal.

I have completed the writing of the Millennium edition of 'allez BOOZE' which contains precise information including prices on where to buy your tobacco, drink etc, in France and Belgium so perhaps my computers will be seized.

 

Cold Reality (spotted in the newsgroups)

Several years ago on returning to the UK from a winter holiday I remarked to my fellow passengers that we were voluntarily returning to our prison. I was roundly condemned by my fellow passengers one and all as being unpatriotic and a disgrace ( I alone of my fellow passengers had served six years in the British army).

However having been forced to leave the coach and stand in the rain and cold whilst the custom officers did a Rummage. The change in attitude when they reboarded the coach had to be seen to be believed, they were all over me as being an astute fellow who knew his stuff.

 

Regional Differences by Simon Arnold (originally posted in news groups)

I've had a fair few phone conversations with HM Customs, Charlton Green, Dover, and in particular their head honcho Mrs J. Earland. In doing so I've found out a fair bit about HM Customs operational procedure, and the way in which they (mis)apply the law. Reading between the lines this can provide a few handy hints. Obviously I have no proof of things said during telephone conversations, which is why there's certain stuff I won't divulge in a public forum.

In my experience, actual Customs officers aren't the fascistic, authoritarian jobsworths that you might imagine. They are quite polite, and try to be helpful, but basically they follow procedures handed down from above as if 'on autopilot'. Unlike BBFC examiners, the Customs officers who watch films aren't very film literate, knowing little about the films that they are watching, often confusing different titles, and not in a position to consider artistic merit as a defense.

As far as I've managed to establish (based upon several phone conversations), the procedure that HM Customs, Charlton Green use (other customs offices might adopt different rules - see later) is that upon opening for inspection any package containing films (videos, DVDs, etc), the films are viewed in their entirety from beginning to end, and the running time of the film is taken (note that it's only ever been PAL stuff that I've done battle with them over, for NTSC, with its different frame rate, the procedure might differ). If the film is found to contain sex and/or violence then the next step is a phone call to the BBFC. If the film has a BBFC video certificate (cinema certificates don't count as far as customs are concerned) and is exactly the same as the attempted import version, then it is let through. If the film is a rejected title, or contains sex/ and or violence footage cut by the BBFC (or anyone else) then it is "considered to be indecent or obscene", and is hence "liable to seizure". This is how they get away with seizing innocuous Dario Argento films. If the film hasn't been submitted to the BBFC then it's up to the individual examiner to make a decision.

Another difference here between HMC&E and the BBFC is that BBFC examiners watch films in teams (at least two eaxminers), whereas for HMC&E only a single examiner need view the film. If the film is deemed liable to seizure, then the examiner fills out a report card, usually with short, often one word descriptions of the contents of the films that render them liable to seizure. e.g. for Dario Argento's Opera 'stabbing', or Stephen Sayadian's Nightdreams 'sexual explicitness' and 'insertion of objects'. This is then passed to a different department, who fill out those notice of seizure letters. If you phone up the number on your notice of seizure then it'll be this second department that you're put through to, however, with a little perseverence (and here I found that a threat of legal action helps), you can eventually get through to the individual examiner who watched your film.

On a lighter note, HM Customs Harwich (where surface mail from Sweden and Finland usually enters the country) are more generous. They usually just look at the sleeve of the video or disc, and if it looks OK they re-seal it and forward it on. I had an uncut copy of 'Caligula' opened, examined and re-sealed by them (with their "opened by customs" sellotape) The video case had been opened, but the video cassette itself was still inside the shrinkwrapping.

Some important lessons here can be learnt - if you're gonna import surface mail form Europe then do so from Sweden or Finland rather than Germany, Holland or Denmark, as it will pass through a friendlier customs office. If stuff does get seized then your chances of getting it back are quite slim, but ring them up and ever so politely extract as much info as you can, as you never know what they might divulge.

 

The Standard Tough Shit Letter

I've just read the letter letter send to your site by Mark Wright. In places it's more or less the same as a letter I received about Opera and House By The Cemetery. This would suggest that perhaps HMC&E have a standard "tough shit, we've confiscated it and that's that" letter that they send to all folks who write in. Here's part of my letter, if you compare it to Mark's you'll notice some distinct similarities:

The video cassettes which you attempted to import have been examined; they were found to portray excessive and explicit scenes of violence, including removal of organs, stabbing, cutting of throat [sic]. These portrayals are considered to be obscene and render the material liable to seizure under Section 49(i)(b) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.

There is no exception for goods imported for personal use.

Many films in the horror/violence [sic] genre exist in at least two versions, due to certain cuts having been made to the original ...

hmmm, seems like HM customs are well automated in their rejection of appeals!

 

Explaining Obscenity, contributions from Mark Wright

From a letter from Customs explaining the "obscenity" of Alice, Sweet Alice and Evil Dead

Alice, Sweet Alice contains a scene showing strangulation of a child and graphic scenes of stabbing with a knife which render the film obscene.

Evil Dead contains graphic scenes of clawing of flesh, self mutilation (biting off a hand) mutilation, decapitation, eye gouging and beating of a woman with a wooden post. The Evil Dead is available in an uncut and a cut version, the version you have imported is the uncut version, deeming it liable to seizure.

Phenomena aka Creepers was seized and the importer asked Customs to explain why a film shown at the NFT as part of their Dario Argento retrospective 12 months earlier should be considered obscene. After all, if a cinema full of people can see it why not a single importer? Their response was that the film is obscene and that the NFT showing made no difference to that. They even said that had they intercepted the NFT's print (which came from Belgium and was the same English language print as the one seized) they would have seized that too!

A Blade in the Dark (Lamberto Bava) - Uncut Belgian version and Mondo Cane 3 (?) - Uncut Dutch version, were both seized and again the importer asked why. The response from Customs contains some very interesting points and was as follows:

The videos have been re-examined and were found to contain excessive and explicit scenes of violence including dismemberment, stabbing and cutting of skin and cruelty to animals. These portrayals are considered to be obscene and render the material liable to seizure under section 49(i)(b) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.

Many films in the horror/violence genre exist in at least two versions, due to various cuts having been made to the original. Before film material can be released in the UK it must receive a Certificate from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) who often require certain scenes to be cut before certification. I was interested to learn, therefore, that you have already received a copy of A Blade in the Dark. If Customs have at any time released the uncut version of this film then it was done in error.

There is no published list of prohibited titles. Where a video is suspected of containing material wihtin the prohibition, Officers are obliged to view the film in full before making a decision. Seizure is not made on the basis of title alone. Since the law on the portrayal of horror and violence on film is rather more stringent in the UK than elsewhere, it is possible that imported material could contain prohibited scenes and you run the risk of contravening the UK laws.

Generally, scenes of explicit violence such as decapitation, dismemberment, eye-gouging, torture, mutilation and cannibalism are likely to fall within the prohibition. This list is not exhaustive. The only advice I can offer is that you seek as much information as possible about the content of any film you wish to import and use your own judgement about whether any scenes of graphic violence may be considered to be obscene. It would be sensible to base your decision on factors such as whether a version of the film has been given a certificate by the BBFC for video release in this country and if so what cuts were required.

Note the use of no published list of prohibited titles as opposed to simply "no list of prohibited titles." This seems to imply that there is indeed a list but that it is not available to the public. This raises the obvious question as to just what such a list would be for. If it were truly to "protect" the public from certain scenes would this not be more readily achieved by telling people from the outset that they couldn't import the films which they know contain such scenes?

Also note that scenes containing content which Customs suggest may be deemed obscene (decapitation, dismemberment, eye-gouging, torture, mutilation and cannibalism) can be found in many certificated video releases in the UK - hardly a useful guide.

 

Key Word Recognition By BillyBong

Just spoke with Customs as regards importing from USA companies and spoke with a very helpful chap (which is unusual in itself)

A lot of you have reported problems with packages getting checked which can delay arrival by 1-2 days max as a rule this maybe due to the fact that the computers that customs use are programmed with "keywords" to look out for when shipments come in. The officer told me that "DVD" is now one of these keywords, so all packages in that shipment that have DVD in description of goods section would get pulled and some of those checked - depending on how many have arrived on the plane at that time etc.

I have also read that "ALL" packages from DVD Express would get checked - why I don't know, but customs don't like em. I have a number also which the same officer gave me, its an advice line, you can call this, say like me, if you wish to import the new DVD version of Texas Chainsaw - its not officially banned (ie: on the list) but who the hell knows if it would come through or not?? If I phone this number ask and get a signed fax sent over from them, then if it does get it problems coming through I have a strong case for getting my costs back

 

Re-Animator: An Honest Story of Everyday Customs Folk! By Steve Langton

The law states that consumers can order NTSC discs from abroad, providing:

  1. The discs are for personal use only, and not intended for resale or any other form of monetary gain.
  2. H.M. Customs do not consider the discs to be indecent/obscene.

I remembered reading a piece in 'Home Entertainment' magazine on the subject of imported discs, and the issue seemed pretty clear cut: films containing pornographic material would undoubtedly be seized, but apart from that particular category, it was permissible for collectors to order unrated discs for their own personal use. At least, that was the gospel according to Customs at Gatwick Airport.

Until a few months ago, I'd never bothered with the hassle of going to an overseas supplier, but news that Stuart Gordon's Reanimator had become available on disc persuaded me to order my first import disc. 30 minutes of additional footage (shot for American TV), 2 separate audio commentaries involving cast & crew, 3 trailers and, by all accounts, a gorgeous-looking print - too good to miss I thought.

So, I ordered the disc which was despatched by a mail-order company based in France. After a week or so of waiting, my disc still hadn't arrived so I decided to phone the carriers who informed me that H.M. Customs at Birmingham had destroyed the disc, on the grounds that it contained obscene material. Somehow, this didn't seem possible; surely Customs are obliged to notify the customer before being able to take such action? A week or so later I received a letter advising me that the disc had been 'seized as liable to forfeiture on the grounds that the goods are indecent or obscene articles which were imported contrary to the prohibition contained in section 42 of The Customs Consolidation Act of 1876'. Basically, they gave me 30 days to appeal. If I made a claim against their decision, legal proceedings would be instigated. If I let the matter rest, the disc would be disposed of. I simply didn't have the money to fight this, but I did decide to dig around a little and see if I could get some background info. A couple of phone calls provided me with the following snippets:

  1. Several copies of the Reanimator disc had been seized by various branches of U.K. Customs.
  2. My copy appeared to be the only one not to be released.

After careful consideration, I decided to have a shot at getting my disc released; after all, if other copies had eventually been allowed through, my disc should have been afforded the same treatment.

Unfortunately, I ran into a brick wall! (at this stage, I'd better state that there was a third party involved who had passed my order on to the firm in France). I requested details re. the various cases of consumers who actually received Reanimator after it had initially been stopped by Customs, but the aforementioned third party suffered a mysterious loss of memory when it came to passing on the relevant information.

Yes, I was well and truly on my own in this matter; it was a case of 'We'd rather not get involved old chap'. Fine by me! They certainly won't be getting any more business from yours truly.

I did phone Birmingham Customs a couple of days before their deadline, and enquired why some people had been treated better than I had. Apparently, Birmingham doesn't possess disc-viewing facilities and had to send the disc to London where the decision was made; quite why this was thought to be necessary is still a mystery.

It seems to me that Re-animator is deemed to be indecent/obscene in London/Birmingham, but not in other areas of the country where it was allowed through. There's a degree of inconsistency here: I realise that Customs have a difficult job to do, but a film is either obscene or it isn't. There's no halfway-house, and decisions should not vary. I think that consumers are entitled to clear guidelines regarding which titles can be legitimately imported, rather than arbitrary decisions taken on a regional basis.

If you are in any doubt over whether to order a particular film, contact the nearest branch of H.M. Customs and check whether the disc will be allowed through. If you get the green light, enclose a covering note with your order explaining that you got the go-ahead from Mr Pink at so-and-so airport on the 20th March or whatever.

Ask the mail-order company to ensure that the note accompanies your disc, and at least you'll stand a fair chance of not ending up out of pocket. Obviously, if Customs advise you that the disc is on their 'hit list' (if there is such a thing), do yourself a favour and order something else instead. Of course, losing money on a confiscated disc is by no means the end of the world so it's time for me to stop moaning and acknowledge that all of this pales into insignificance compared to some of the terrible events that dominate both world and domestic news on a daily basis. I simply decided to relate this story as a warning to others, and because I honestly believe that this sort of thing is wrong!

 

UK Censorship
Archive
 UK Censorship News Archive: 1998 1999
 UK Parliament Watch Archive: 1996 1997 1998 1999
 Opinion: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
 Legal Debate Mail order R18s, satellite proscription etc
 Proscription of Adult Satellite Channels Department for Culture, Media, Sport & Proscription
 Human Rights Abuse - Where Do You Draw The Line? by IanG
 Films On TV Red Triangle films on Channel 4 and the cutting of Thelma and Louise on the BBC
 BSC Guidelines Worthless guidelines on taste and decency from the defunct Broadcasting Standards Commission
 Obscene Interpretation of the Law A police raid on porn historian David Flint
 Obscenity Trials The only obscenity is British Justice
 The Black Market for Sex Videos The Pornographer's Best Friend
 Customs Guidelines & Seizures Up until 2000
 The People vs HM Customs Heroic battles against HM Customs
 Escalating Costs HMRC uses as much money as it takes to ensure decisions cannot be challenged in court (Oct 2000)
 Customs Poking Around in your Lap-top