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The Probus Club of Stokesley and District  Minutes of the 358th

 meeting held at 10.00 in Stokesley Town Hall on Tuesday 17th

 October 2017:  

Speaker Jack Moodie: Memoirs of a Customs Officer

Jack was born in 1938 in Edinburgh where he attended George Heriot’s School then Whitley Bay

Grammar School. He served in the Royal Navy from 1957 to 1959. Jack worked as a Customs Officer

from 1959 to 1998. He is a retired JP and the current Treasurer for South Cleveland Probus Club.

A priest was stopped at Customs and declared only his duty free allowance. It was decided to open

his case and bottles of clear liquid were found. It’s Holy Water for my Services declared the Priest. A

bottle was opened and the contents were gin. Ah! A miracle said the Priest. Holy Water into Wine !!

His first posting was in Leith. He visited a ship carrying grain. A rat ran across the road and hid in

some railway points with its tail in view. They closed the points to trap it, found a club and waited.

When the points opened, the rat had escaped after biting off its own tail! Whenever potatoes required

inspection, Officers always took along a matchbox to catch the prevalent Colorado beetles. Jack was

transferred to London where he completed courses on Drugs, Deck Cargo and Animals on Deck.

Jack completed a 3-day course on Passenger Bags after being instilled with a Customs mantra of

always ‘control the process’. One passenger couldn’t find the case key but did produce it when Jack

brought along a screwdriver. Pornographic books were found and an arrest made.  

Jack passed his first Officer exams and was posted to West Hartlepool, before moving to

Grangemouth with 25 other Officers. They were all very young, keen and not provided with any

protective clothing. They were supplied with Swarfega to use as barrier cream. Dundee to

Grangemouth was a popular route for seamen to enjoy the on-board services of prostitutes. The

Ladies could make excellent money but ran risks. One informed Customs of smuggling by the Mate

after she had taken a beating. He was arrested for smuggling 800 cigarettes.  

Dock workers were particularly interested in stealing Whisky. Body searches for bottles were required

to follow gender rules. Men for men and women for women. It was essential for employment for

Dockers to be listed in the Black Book. This also saved arrests with fines paid in cash to avoid the

Courts. Jack was involved in an all-night vigil in a freezing mid-winter watching a Polish ship. A Van

arrived at 2.30am and arrests made. They did not have a Search Warrant but a Writ of Assistance

facilitated the search. This gave access to Premises but ‘contraband goods’ would be taken into one

building and then passed through to the next via holes in the walls. Warrants were specific to one

address but the Writ allowed Customs action with support from a Sheriff.  

In 1965 Jack was promoted to Dover, a very busy and understaffed Port. Jack worked on the West

Dock inspecting Cars. Smuggling was common. He stopped one MP who was extremely difficult and

only declared his additional MP allowance. Extra cigarettes and wine were found. He paid the fine

with goods forfeited. Jack was transferred to the East Dock inspecting Trains including the Orient

Express. On one occasion 6 ships arrived at the same time creating a bottle-neck on shore. Car

drivers honked their horns creating a massive din until the delay was over. Jack had rejected pressure

to short circuit checks. Bottles of Gin were found hidden in the thick doors of a Standard Vanguard.

Jack was promoted to Southend and completed 2 6-week courses. One on the import and export of

freight goods followed by a second on Purchase Tax issues. He dealt with major airlines including

BEA, Pan Am and TWA; all long haul flights. Seized items were taken to the Queen’s Warehouse.

While inspecting crates of Game and Gun seizures Jack aimed and fired one rifle which was loaded

and knocked a hole through the roof. Jack was then transferred to Teesport where he uncovered a

major Gun plot linked with Iraq. He found discrepancies in the manifest and suspected the cargo of

‘tubes’ made in Sheffield by Forgemasters, capable of discharging 20 tonne shells. His Report

immediately brought two people from London by Helicopter to investigate. Jack’s suspicions were all

validated. Kalashnikovs, semtex and fuses were also found. The DTI had been involved but had

monitored the situation ineffectively. The incident was suppressed to prevent legal proceedings.