Seized! audio description transcript

This transcript accompanies the audio introduction to the Seized! gallery|.

Let me tell a little more about this fascinating exhibition.

Revenue and Customs officers work on our behalf to raise taxes to pay for services we all use. They also protect us by controlling the import of illegal goods, such as guns and drugs. It is an unseen world of smuggling, intrigue and detection, where things are not always what they seem.

At some time in our lives, we all make use of hospitals, schools, roads, museums and other public services. They are paid for by taxes raised by the Government. If we didn't pay tax, these services would disappear. Each year we pay billions of pounds to run the services we need. Keeping the UK going costs us around £519 billion annually. But £75 billion is lost each year through tax evasion and fraud. That's nearly 15%. The money we pay to the government to run these services is called tax. Most of it today is collected electronically.

Historically, taxes were first collected to pay for fighting wars. Modern taxation started during the English Civil War of 1642-51, when Parliament introduced excise duties to fund its struggle against Charles I.

Stamp duty was introduced in 1694 as a tax on legal documents to fund the war against France. Over the following centuries, new taxes were devised to fund other wars. One of the most important of these was income tax.

Right up until the creation of the Welfare State and the National Health Service in July 1945, taxes mainly paid for war and defence.

That completes the first part of this message but if you like to hear some more interesting facts, please stay on the line and I'll continue.

As you are probably aware, Revenue and Customs collect taxes, but exactly what is tax paid on? Well just about everything and anything. Tax is with us at every stage of our life and even beyond the grave. Some of the taxes levied in the past seem quite bizarre - on windows, chimneys and bachelors. Tax evolves as new products and activities are introduced, such as flying or land filling.

Today the government uses tax to influence our behaviour, for instance to reduce smoking.

Revenue and Customs also work to try and stop the illegal importation of fakes goods. Buying fake or counterfeit brands may seem harmless enough, but it represents the tip of a dangerous iceberg. It not only makes money from the ideas and hard work of other people, but also costs jobs when firms making the real goods lose money. It destroys brand reputation, with consumers often being sold goods that are unreliable. Money made from smuggling fakes robs the government of tax revenue. Worst of all, it can fuel other illegal activities such as drug smuggling and gun-crime.

Then there's tobacco and alcohol. Did you know that, about a quarter of all cigarettes smoked in the UK today are smuggled into the country? In 2005-6 Customs officers seized nearly 6,000 vehicles for smuggling tobacco. Over half the cigarettes seized were cheap fakes and some even contained poisonous substances like arsenic. Huge amounts of public money are lost through tobacco smuggling.

Beating the smugglers at their own game takes ingenuity and daring.

Watching what's going on at our ports, airports and other access points is where much of the real work lies. Frontline officers check containers, vehicles, ships and aircraft, sometimes examining their contents. They are on the lookout for suspicious looking passengers and act on information received from law-enforcement agencies abroad.

Until the 1960s this was a male world, and it is only recently that female officers have joined the frontline. Today, some tasks once undertaken by Revenue and Customs are carried out by the Border & Immigration Agency.

Revenue and Customs officers work to stop the importation of the illegal drugs at destroy peoples lives. The quantity of drugs that flows towards the UK is staggering. In 2005 alone, nearly 42,000kg of cannabis, 5,798kg of cocaine, 1,057kg of heroine, 468kg of ecstasy and 175 kg of other synthetic drugs were seized by Customs officers.

These big seizures contrast sharply with smuggling attempts made by individuals. Often employed by criminals and known as 'mules', these people put their lives at great risk by smuggling drugs inside their bodies.