Historical rummage transcript

This transcript accompanies the 'Historical rummage' short film from the Seized! gallery.

First voice: I have got a very clear recollection of my first day. The Central Office for the Waterguard in Liverpool was based on the old landing stage which has now gone, which was where the liners berthed and that's where I reported, having first reported to the Custom House.

Sent down there, there about three of us I think, none of whom had met before and we were shown into this rather scruffy, dirty office and we were sat down, and we were only there for a moment or two and there was a terrible noise - a gang of the dirtiest, blackest cut throats wearing Customs Uniforms came barging in - it was a rummage crew. First one we'd ever seen, and it was one of the mobile rummage crews. The elite.

They'd been out rummaging goodness knows what, and as I said most of them were filthy dirty, very raucous, they'd had a good day, they were elated, and I thought "what's this!" Because previously one had a picture in the mind of a very smartly turned out Customs Officer with cap and nice starched collar.

Second voice: I loved rummage, it was a fit young man's game, it was really like professional hide and seek. We would go onto a ship and we would stay there for four hours or six hours.

But a ship in those days was cavernous, absolutely like a whole street of terraced houses, and we used to separate out and rummage certain areas. I was the engine room man and also the boiler room man, there would be three rummagers and a PO who was a touringer and he would occasionally come wondering along to find you to see if you were alright, we always were.

It was very, very hard work and it was rewarding when you found something, you had a great sense of achievement when you found something, we used to make about 2,000 seizures a year in the Port of Liverpool.

But then in 1963 we did in fact find some drugs on a ship called the Homer. There was information received that there were substantial quantities of drugs on board this ship and we rummaged it all one day and all that evening and a night shift came on and carried on rummaging it, we found nothing, and the CPO said "I am assured the stuff is there, go back and find it."

And eventually I want into a tank down the tunnel connecting the engine room with the stern, and unbolted a tank top which had about 30 bolts on it, and a gasket and I lifted the tank top off and I went down into the bottom of the ship, which was carrying ballast, water and oil at that time, and I climbed through some lightening holes and I could see that a wooden platform had been constructed with a number of sacks on it. We pulled out eight sacks which was 200 weight of cannabis, which had been smuggled from Rangoon. So that was by far the biggest seizure of drugs that had been made in the Port of Liverpool at that time.

Third voice: One of the things you got every month was a monthly circular, was sent out by the board of commissioners, which gave details of notable seizures in the UK, all round the coast and that sort of thing - giving illustrations and drawings and so on. So I always read those up and a lot of it is common sense, and really you learn by seeing what other people have found on ships.

I might add that, the way it was organised, I did mention before that there was 10 rummage crews in the port, two of them mobile. Now each crew would have one officer who would specialise in the engine room, one would do the decks, and lifeboats and the open places and boats and stores and the holes, and the other the third one was known as the cabin man, he would do the rooms.

I tended to go for cabins because I realised very quickly that most of the smugglers didn't put anything valuable in the hold, if they'd bought a gold watch or had a diamond engagement ring and things like that, they would always carry them with them and they daren't leave then around in case anyone found them or they fell off and got lost of something like that. So I found it was a very profitable business really, searching cabins, and of course you could search the person if you were reasonably satisfied that they had something on them.