British yacht stopped and searched on suspicion of carrying drugs

Four British sailors have spoken about their ordeal at the hands of French Customs early last week. They were on board a 49ft Hallberg-Rassy, which was stopped and boarded by armed officers from a French Customs cutter, according to a Hertfordshire local news source.

The three crew, Martyn Gulliver, Steve Gledhill and Dave Price with yacht owner Richard Whitmore-Jones, all from Harpenden, were about 10 miles off Cherbourg en route from Chichester to St. Vaast for dinner when the incident took place.

Steve, who runs a marketing company in Harpenden, said: “No explanation was given and we were treated very harshly.” The group were searched on board the cutter individually and then forced to sail to Cherbourg, four hours away. “On arrival a dozen men swarmed onto the boat and started to search it,” Steve continued. “It was only when a dog was brought on board that we realised we were being searched for drugs.”

He said the four of them were again taken one by one to the Customs cutter where they were roughly searched and all their possessions were impounded. They were eventually taken back on deck where armed guards enforced a no-talking ban between the group.

The entire ordeal lasted about nine hours and on returning to the yacht, found boards had been ripped up, wood scratched, cupboards torn open and fittings removed with pliers.

Yacht owner Mr Whitmore-Jones accused the French customs of acting unprofessionally in the way they dealt with the situation.

He said: “They gave us absolutely no reason for boarding us and arresting us. It does seem they overstepped their authority.”

He said he was raising an official complaint with the French authorities and with his MEP.

British sailors are advised to have all paperwork in order before entering French territorial waters.