Knives Seized By Customs / Border Force UK. What do I do?

A lot of us have been there; waiting for a knife or even a large shipment of knives to come from abroad – especially America. When the dreaded letter arrives, coldly informing you that your purchase has been seized at the import location.

We know many people are legally importing non-prohibited knives and we want to help you kick start the process to get the goods back into your possession and fight the potentially unlawful seizure that’s taken place. This is a long one, so bear with us.

Last year, a publication on the internet emerged boasting how Border Force had seized double the number of banned knives from the previous year! They claimed a 61% rise in confiscations. Arguably the figure is true, however, what they don’t say is that just for us, over 2000 were returned to us as they weren’t banned! We believe this is solely because they wanted to fabricate figures that makes their processes look good. The Government are clutching at straws in order to look like they’re ‘doing something’ and resorting to arguably illegal activities to achieve this goal.
Border Force certainly haven’t mentioned anything about the number returned to the buyers have they? Case and point!
Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/28/number-of-banned-knives-seized-at-uk-borders-doubles

Why would you import knives anyway? Aren’t they murder machines?! Well, no. There are an infinite number of uses for good quality cutlery, as we respect each and every one of them. Cutting your food, opening packages, carving a feather stick, hunting, camping, shooting, Electricians, Fishing, Bushcraft and more!

Why are we qualified to do this? Simply, we’ve won on a few occasions against unlawful seizures carried out by Border Force and don’t want other people to be stuck without the helpful advice we’ve received. Most recently, they seized over 2000 knives from us! All legal spring assisted knives, all correctly declared with duty and VAT Paid, and all gone, without a second thought from Border Force about how potentially damaging this would be to us.  We lost a years’ worth of trade as we couldn’t import more knives to cover the missing ones as they were likely to be seized again. That’s hundreds of thousands of pounds missing due to their vendetta. 

The letters you will receive look scary, this is intentional. They want to coerce you into letting them destroy the goods to bolster their figures. They will claim that you’ll have to pay massive court fees and costs. While this is true in some cases, it’s not true in all. If you have purchased legal items, you won’t normally have to pay their court fees. You may or may not have to pay your own, if you refer to our case in your documentation, you may find that you are reimbursed your court costs as you can prove they’ve ignored previous evidence. We cannot guarantee this will happen, so you will need to speak to your legal representative. We were forced to pay our own court fees, but not Border Force's. Please speak to your legal representative about your options, as it is possible you'll be forced to pay your own and theirs depening on the situation, this is one of the reasons it helps to have a great lawyer!

We received the very same dreaded letter you likely have, stating that the knives were illegal, and that they’ve been seized. The problem was, they included their ‘reasons’ for the seizure on the letter. They called them ‘flick’ knives wholly due to their incompetence. Further, on another occasion, they even stated that they had taken them because they were spring assisted! They correctly identified them as spring assisted and still seized them, again showing their careless and borderline illegal nature.

From this point on, make sure you keep copies of all correspondence dated and labelled in a file so you can refer to it later and pick holes in their arguments, if your goods are legal, there will be several problems with their case.  

So, began the tedious, drawn out and expensive process to get our goods returned. With that in mind, please do be aware that this is not legal advice, merely our own story, and how you may use it in order to help begin your own restoration and or condemnation process. 

We want everyone to fight these unlawful seizures and to help show Border Force that we won’t be bullied into submission just because we’re an individual or small company. We have the power and will to fight this. Through this process, you will feel bullied, harassed, defamed and it will be very difficult to get your point across to anyone within Border Force as they don’t care about us, they make their own rules. Despite this, it’s important to be polite and coherent in your responses so if you do have to rely on information you’ve provided later, you can. 

Before we start, a quick note: If you know the knives you’ve had seized are illegal, these steps won’t help you and may do more harm than good, bringing the goods to the attention of the courts and opening yourself up to prosecution. If they’re illegal, you’re out of luck, and hell, it’s your own stupid fault! Make sure you check in future!

There are basically two main things that will be noted as the reason for seizure on the letter you’ve received. They’ll determine your goods are flick knives, or gravity knives. If they are these things don’t proceed any further, accept the seizure, allow the goods to be destroyed and expect a visit from a Police officer - you may receive a caution. For this blog, we’ll focus mainly on spring assisted knives, or what they’ll consider flick knives – incorrectly, of course. 

Spring Assisted Knives: If you’ve imported these, chances are they’re calling them flick knives. They are NOT!

Ball Bearing Knives: If you’ve imported these, chances are they’re calling them gravity knives, again, they are not designed to be gravity knives. While these one is harder to contest, it’s still possible.

Once you’ve received the seizure letter, you have 30 days to respond, make sure you do this via recorded delivery in writing as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’ll lose the goods and again, may receive a visit from the Police or a caution. It also means if they make a mistake, don’t reply or destroy the goods, you can claim compensation. Recently, Border Force paid us the full market value for goods they destroyed illegally in this fashion as we could prove we’d contested the seizure! 

Basic Steps:

If the goods are legal, you have three options;

1) Do not reply - This will result in your goods being destroyed and could lead to you receiving a caution and be detrimental to your future. 

2) Ask for restoration. – this is when you know your goods are legal, an independent border force officer will examine the case and any proof / evidence you provide. if you succeed, the goods will be returned

3) Contest the seizure and ask border force to start condemnation proceedings if they reject to restore goods – only do this if you are a retailer / prepared to go to court and spend money. You’ll need to decide if you’re willing to do this at the start as it’ll determine if you include restoration or restoration and condemnation proceedings in your letter.

A quick summery of the below more detailed steps:

1) Check goods are actually legal. Use Sources such as the gov library of legislation.

2) Plan your letter before writing it and always be polite. Make sure you keep copies of everything you send/receive.

3) Collect direct quotes from the legislation, previous cases and documents where the knives have been proven legal – Contact us for our documents if needed.

4) Send your restoration, condemnation (or both) letter and wait for the response.

5) If you win the restoration, you’ll get your goods back. If not, you’ll now need to seek legal help as the next step is a court case / proceeding. If you only applied for restoration, this is where you’d stop. The next steps are court, which we don’t recommend for most people due to costs. Continue if you asked to begin condemnation proceedings.

6) Prepare for and go to court. You can represent yourself or hire a legal expert as we did. This is what we’d recommend and it’s why you should only go this route if you reasonably expect to get the goods back and you have the money to spend.

If the goods are legal, you have two options. Ignore the seizure and move on without the goods. This will result in the legal items being destroyed and a ‘mark’ going against your name. It’s cheaper to do this, but there could be repercussions. You may receive a visit from a Police Officer at your house or office and may even receive a Police caution. Prosecution is rare but could in theory happen. We don’t recommend doing this as it may make further imports harder, and may lead to a criminal record, however unlikely. 

Or you can request restoration. This is the safest option, you may still lose (though you could also win!) but at least you’ve registered that you don’t believe the goods to be illegal. Even if you lose the restoration process, you can still write a letter stating you do not accept the goods are illegal, but you accept that they will be destroyed. This is especially good if you don’t want or don’t have the funds to pay for a lawyer for condemnation proceedings.  We’ll touch on a third option further down (Condemnation).

Step 1) Determine if your goods are legal. If like us you know they are, skip this step. If not, here is a brief list of the knives currently classified as illegal to import, own or sell.

Butterfly / Balisongs, Disguised knives, flick knives, gravity knives, stealth knives, zombie knives, certain swords, sword sticks / canes, push daggers, shuriken / throwing stars, kusari-gama, kyoketsu-shoge, hand or foot claws, knuckle dusters (not knives but relevant in the case of trench knives). If you’ve imported any of these except the ones with brackets, accept the seizure and allow the goods to be destroyed, don’t make a fuss and don’t draw attention to yourself.

Next, if you’ve imported spring assisted knives, ball bearing knives or a curved sword make sure you check to see if your knife actually is one of these types of knives. Customs will often see a knife, decide they don’t like it and arbitrarily call it one of the above. A flick knife HAS to be opened via a button or other mechanism ON OR IN the handle of the knife to legally be considered illegal. A gravity knife must open under the force of gravity alone with no assistance other than the release of a catch or button and a curved sword is only illegal if it’s over 50cm in length and was not made using traditional methods. If your import doesn’t fit this criteria, your knife is legal and should not have been seized. Especially in the case of spring assisted knives or ball bearing or even just smooth opening knives, they are all legal to own and import and we’ll do our best to help you get them back.

Step 2) Don’t panic, we’ll need to plan the appeal out. The letter you receive telling you you’ve had your goods seized will suggest you apply for restoration or otherwise to start condemnation proceedings. It’s temping to jump right in and send a quickly written letter in response. Don’t do this.

A restoration request is where we’ll start. Customs and Border Force are not well educated on the legal definitions on knives and appealing to them that your knives are legal will often not work. So, to begin the process we need to submit a restoration appeal. At this point you’ll need to decide if you want to stop with the restoration request, or go all in with a request to begin condemnation proceedings as well. Starting condemnation proceedings is a legal process that will end up with court dates, lawyers and significant cost. So, it’s important to only go this route if you have the means to afford it. It’s only really worth the risk for retailers, or those who’ve imported goods of significant value.

To write your letter: Be extremely polite. You will need to clearly state that you are requesting restoration. Write this at the top of the letter – then proceed to cover the following information in the body.

Step 3) Begin by collecting direct quotes from the gov website on the definitions of the knives you’ve imported. More often than not it will focus around Flick and Gravity knives. As stated above regarding flick knives they MUST have a button or switch on or inside the handle. If your knives don’t, begin with that state they do not fit the definition of a flick knife and they are not prohibited. Follow this up with a legal quote such as the one below for flick knives.

Ball Bearing knives are trickier, an untrained border force agent may flick their wrist extremely hard to cause a knife to open. This does not make it a gravity knife, nor a centrifugal knife. Gravity is the force pulling you and the knife to the centre of the earth, this law only applies if when you press a button the knife opens on its own simply by pointing it down. If it doesn’t do this, it’s not a gravity knife. Any folding knife can be opened by application of extreme force; however, most knives are not designed for this so an argument can be made that opened by centrifugal force does not apply. If you wanted to try this argument in the next steps is entirely up to you.

Continue on with how your knives don’t meet the criteria to be on the banned knives list. Confirm that you’re asking for restoration again and realistically, prepare to hear a no in response to your request for restoration. At this point, if you know you’re going to need to start condemnation proceedings, this is where you’ll need to put it. Write it clearly, and make it obvious so it can’t be thrown out later. Again, be absolutely certain you have the means to afford this, as you’re risking a lot of time and money.

You will have to prove your item is spring assisted (we took some knives apart and took pictures of the inner and outer mechanisms to prove there was no button or switch on the handle for example). You will also need to provide the invoice from your supplier which should state spring assisted knives. So, make sure whoever you buy from correctly names their items. You can use our case and other previous cases in this part of the letter. Our case is available from us on request. Any other previous cases and information you find can be included here. 

Step 4) Wait for a response, this is all you can do with a restoration request. You’ll either get them back or you won’t. To continue after this point will start to get expensive.

If you’re a retailer, or importer or just an individual who has the money to go to court, this is where we’ll start to need legal advice. If you’ve imported something well over the cost of court (at least £1000) you can start condemnation proceedings. We don’t normally recommend this for most people as it will be expensive, even if you win you can be required to pay court fees. In our case, having lost multiple thousands of pounds worth of goods, we needed to go this route to recoup the costs and as a point of pride. We weren’t going to be defamed, we hadn’t done anything wrong. This cost us; we hired an expert that cost £1500 to help explain what the knives were. A useful thing to have on your side, but the same evidence is now available in the documents we submitted which are again, available on request from us.

Step 5) Continue waiting for the result from your condemnation request. Then contact a lawyer or barrister, you’ll need them to guide you through the court process. We used a barrister, if you’re a customer of ours, please contact us, if we think you’ve purchased legal goods, we’ll happily pass your details along – he was fantastic; willing and able to help. You’ll need to do this to negotiate your way through legal speak and court dates. He was instrumental in helping with this process and probably one of the reasons we won. You can represent yourself in court, but it’s much harder to understand and you could incriminate yourself accidentally. 

The rest of this works pretty much on its own, you’ll receive a court date and should expect to go. However, in a lot of cases, it’s likely Border Force will drop the case at this point, due to the evidence you’ve provided and some negotiation between Border Force’s lawyer and yours. Expect to wait months between messages and frequently feel out of the loop. However, once the case is dropped you should expect your goods back fairly quickly. Contact your lawyer or representative every time you receive communication for Border Force and make sure you’re honest.

Step 6) Court. This will be where your lawyer or representative will prepare you for what to say, what to do and how to act. Essentially the only advice you need here is to do and say exactly what the lawyer helps you prepare. This is expensive, but ultimately worth it if you have the time and money as it will help to show Border Force we cannot be bullied.

If you need any further help on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we have all of the documents we submitted available to help you with your attempts to get your goods back.

Good luck!

To all who got this far, and you’re interested in our goods, here is a 15% discount code valid until the end of March. It’s one per customer so if you use it twice, we won’t be able to ship the order with that discount. Use Code: BFBLOG15

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Thank you all for reading.

Once again, this does not constitute legal advice and we would encourage you to seek professional legal help from a reputable source such as solicitor, lawyer or barrister.

Paul ^ DNA leisure.