Flower Dealer Triumphs Over Officialdom in Orchid Bulbs Row

Officialdom is a necessary, if occasionally irritating, fact of life, but one case has shown that an overzealous application of the rules can be beaten with tenacity and good legal advice. It involved an award-winning flower dealer, which had almost 1,500 orchid bulbs confiscated by customs officers but has won a tribunal's backing in its campaign to get them back.

The bulbs, which had been imported from India, were seized on their arrival in the UK on the basis that they were not accompanied by documentation required by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). They had since been stored at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

In upholding the dealer's complaint, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) found that it had acted in good faith throughout and that the refusal of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to restore the bulbs was unreasonable. The bulbs were not as rare as had at first been thought and the absence of documents was due to a failure in the postal system.

The dealer was entirely supportive of the CITES regime and customs officials had been provided with the missing documentation soon after the difficulty arose. The import of the bulbs had caused no risk to the UK flora population and HMRC's decision had given rise to a disproportionate outcome. The FTT ordered the Director of Border Revenue to reconsider the matter in the light of its ruling.