A cautionary rale abiuyt swords
Posted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 6:54 pm
(Source: HEMA Facebook Page)
I thought you should know about the following as a matter of urgency given the potential ramifications for any one in HEMA, JSA or other sword
Arts or sports.
A couple of weeks ago I needed a replacement Japanese cutting blade from my regular Battodo practice so I ordered one from abroad as I have often done before. The same blades are freely available from UK suppliers like Nine Circles but I had found a US vendor with a substantial sale reduction.
As usual, I anticipated the item being held by customs, having been through this process many times before. Curved swords over 50cms in length have been made illegal in the UK but there are many exemptions available (I attach a guidance link below) The courier was on this occasion UPS who will often deal with customs on my behalf. I provided a copy of my Japanese sword group membership and of the latest public liability certificate, as before. After a few days of hearing nothing, I called UPS to be told the item had been held by customs and I would have to speak to them.
After a series of phone calls last Monday I eventually found myself speaking to a friendly border officer who explained that the item had been seized my customs and opened and found to contain an illegal sword. He was receptive when I explained my exemptions as a practicing martial artist under two different groups each with a public liability certificate, and assured me that if I sent the aforesaid documentation to him, he would forward it to the customs officer dealing with my item. I received a prompt reply saying that he had done so, and thought no more of it.
Early yesterday morning I awoke to a loud knock at my door and opened it to be met with a storm of 5 plain clothes police officers who promptly placed me under arrest on suspicion of importation and possession of illegal weapons, with a warrant to search my property. I was allowed to get dressed and then sat in cuffs whilst my small apartment was turned upside down leaving nothing to the imagination.
I explained calmly to the officers that I was not aware of doing anything illegal due to my exemptions as a martial arts (as above) and due to the fact most of the swords in question were under 50cm in blade length, or curved, or made by traditional methods, or made prior to 1954 etc (I attach a link below to the relevant guidance with which I am familiar). The arresting officers explained that I may well be telling the truth, but that they were not experts and did not know whether such exemptions existed, or were valid. The officers were members of a Gangs unit and explained that this was a high priority operation for them at the moment.
Every sword I had was seized, Japanese or European, sharp or blunt, curved or straight, even down to camping knives. In addition they took both my computers and phones, credit and debit cards, house keys. Each seized item was shown to me, to provide a description and confirm to whom it belonged, which included a phone and laptop that belong to my employer. Also confiscated were all my prescription medications, since they did not believe they were all mine and legal since despite producing a copy of a prescription some were not in their original blister packs (I decant them into small bottles for ease of transport).
I was then taken by car to Holborn police station and placed in a holding cell. I was told I would be interrogated and asked if I wished for a free solicitor to be present, and responded in the affirmative. I was told I could not have any of the medications I was due to take that morning until I had been seen by the doctor and they had confirmed my prescriptions with both my GP and consultant.
After an hour or so in the cell I was allowed to see a doctor, who interrogated me as to my medications and why I had been prescribed them. After checking with my GPs surgery I was allowed to take my morning medications as well being given a clean blanket for my cell. I then had several hours to myself.
Eventually I was told that my solicitor had arrived, and that I could see him for a confidential consultation. He was pleasant and supportive, but proved no more familiar with the legislation around swords than the officers who arrested me. He seemed surprised I admitted to openly importing the sword, and further surprised to learn that there were exemptions for such laws. He gave me typical friendly advice on the benefits and risks of answering questions under interview, and after a while I was taken into a recorded interview room with him and the officer who arrested me at my residence.
Much of the interrogation under recording was simply repeating the conversations that had taken place at the time of my arrest. He further queried how swords are used in my training, where and when and how frequently. He asked how they are transported and if they are ever used in public places such as parks. I was pushed on what barriers are in place to someone joining a martial arts club and gaining insurance and access to the public liability certificate. He asked me how regularly I attend the group training, when was the last time, and if anyone could testify to my attendance Wednesday last week, wherein I gave your name as a witness. He challenged me for using swords as someone who suffers from depression and anxiety and whether I would use them to be a danger to others or myself. He asked if I had ever sold swords and on the advice of my solicitor I declined.
Following the end of this and signing off on the audio log, I had a second consultation with my solicitor. He said I had a given a good clear interview, and that he couldn’t see what more I could have said in my defence. He said it was possible that they would drop the case now, but predicted they would take “the more lazy option” of bailing me until a future date whilst they made investigated further. The solicitor reiterated to them that I would need my phones and laptops for work, and that my medications should be returned to me, and we were told this would happen once they were no longer needed.
After a few more hours, I was bailed. I provided the purchase receipt for the sword seized by customs, along with the names and contact details of my instructors who could provide public liability certificates and evidence of my membership. I have the same for my Japanese sword group. They stated they may contact them and others to confirm my details and testimony.
My phones, keys and wallet were returned to me. My two laptops were shown to me and I was asked which one I need more. I indicated my work laptop and so this was returned but the other was retained. I do not understand what value the polices saw in holding a computer of mine if they did not care which computer it was. All swords, regardless of their properties, remain seized. Thus the Met police currently retain in excess of £10,000 of my personal property in the form of antique swords, computing equipment, et cetera.
It remains to be seen whether I will be charged with anything. On the advice of my brother in the legal profession I am seeking the advice and representation of a recommended solicitor to see if there is any possibility of proceedings being dropped before my bail date on the 22nd September.
Reflecting on the Kafkaesque situation whilst in my cell, I remained sure that I was in the right largely on the basis that I do not see what I have done that sword martial artists in all fields across the country do not do constantly. I possessed swords in my own home, used them for training and transporting them to and from. When I needed to import one I presented all my necessary documentation up front, as has been sufficient for me and others in the past. And yet without warning my home was raided and upturned, I was arrested and I spent a day staring at a cell wall, wondering what more I could have done.