Smuggler's body belt

Guilty secrets - the traveller avoiding tax

wide fabric belt with two buckles to fasten it

People can go to huge lengths to conceal smuggled goods. Today this includes illegal drugs; in the past it was often items of low financial value, with the aim of avoiding paying tax.

In 1946 a ship's engineer tried to avoid paying duties - he was concealing goods in a purpose made waist belt. It carried small items such as watches and jewellery, which were luxury goods during the Second World War and heavily taxed.

The engineer was found working on board the ship 'SS Rodsley' in West India Docks (London) wearing the waist belt. It held:

  • 2 wrist watches
  • 1 mechanical lighter
  • 3 pieces of costume jewellery
  • 6 pairs of stockings.

The value of the belt's contents was £11 and 12 shillings. The smuggler was fined around £25. In today's money this would be £650.

old hand-written note

Note written by a customs officer accompanying the body belt

The full text on the note above is:

"B.O. 218275/46 J.S.Duffy.

4th Engineer, 'SS Rodsley' ex 'Rossario' at W India Dock, 17.4.46.

Waistbelt especially made for concealment found to contain

  • 2 metal wrist watches - value £4 each
  • 1 mechanical lighter - value £1.2.0
  • 3 articles of initation jewellery - value £1.5.0 total
  • 6 pairs artificial silk stockings - value £3.0 pair

Paid compromise fine of £25.2.4"

Accession number CENM2007.9.1-2