Hamill’s Beat - Police shouldn’t seize ‘counterfeit’ goods

All around the world, market stalls are groaning under the weight of so-called ‘counterfeit’ goods. They’re one of the attractions of going abroad. Here in Derry the PSNI are protecting us from such terrible things.

They don’t want us to face disappointment. It would be a cruel blow for us to discover we’d got what an inspector calls, “an expensive bargain”. Can you imagine our anguish if we’d bought top designer items only to find on “throwing them into the wash” that “they shrink and the colours run?”

Last week the PSNI seized £20,000 worth of “counterfeit” gear from a stall on the walls and from a nearby van. Phew! It was a close run thing.

If they hadn’t got their hands on it, we could have thrown it into the wash and discovered the awful truth. But, it would have been too late. We’d have been left with, “no come back,” the inspector says. We couldn’t bear that!

Well done, PSNI! You saved us from disappointment. There remains just one problem, however. The inspector hopes that in time, after any court cases have finished, the labels can be cut off the offending items and they can, “give some of the clothes to charity”. But won’t the poor people who receive the items be disappointed when they throw them into the wash? Maybe it won’t be too bad for them because they’ll be poor people anyway and they won’t have paid for the stuff in the first place.

Is there anyone out there who thinks they can buy say, a genuine Gucci handbag costing £1,000 or more for €20 euro from a market stall in Benidorm? Or, is there anyone who thinks they can buy say, top-of-the-range Hugo Boss clothing from a stall for a fraction of its shop price? If there is – they shouldn’t be allowed out on their own. It’s ridiculous. Let the buyer beware is a good enough maxim for me.

Fair enough, trading standards officers have to regulate extremely sub-standard or dangerous goods.

And local councils also need to control the number of market stalls in towns to protect shopkeepers who pay enormous rates.

But protecting the profits of those who sell say, trainers, hooded tops and T shirts at inflated prices, simply because of their labels and designer logos, should be nothing to do with the PSNI. They shouldn’t be seizing cheaper versions from stalls. So long as the goods aren’t dangerous, let free market economics rip.

The inspector sought to justify the seizures on the grounds that the trade in ‘counterfeit’ goods is linked to the drugs trade and to human trafficking. It’s possible, although it’s a claim that always sounds tenuous and a bit disingenuous.

The evidence for his assertion sounds vague and unconvincing. In any case, shouldn’t people in the drugs trade or in human trafficking be tackled directly?

However reprehensible human trafficking is, the police have always tended to exaggerate its extent. It seems that officers can resist everything except the temptation to indulge in spin, as Oscar Wilde almost put it. It’s entirely obvious, for instance, that the overwhelming majority of women involved in prostitution haven’t been the victims of human trafficking.

So if you go abroad and do get that £1,000 handbag you’ve had your heart set on, for just 20 euro from a market stall, don’t feel too guilty about supporting the international drugs trade or human trafficking.

Just feel pleased with yourself for spotting it and only feel silly if it falls apart a couple of weeks after you’ve come home.

On the other hand, if you bought it here and it falls apart – go and tell the PSNI. They’ll put a stop to the rotters!