Modern-day pirate's offshore off-licence

A YACHTSMAN has set up Hartlepool's first offshore off-licence.

Phil Berriman is selling cigarettes and alcohol from his yacht, the Rich Harvest, 13 miles off the coast of Hartlepool.

Because he is more than 12 miles out to sea, Mr Berriman says he is in international trade waters and his tax and duty-free scheme is perfectly legal.

The scheme, thought up by the marine engineer from Stockton eight months ago, has the potential to make up to 10,000 per week, he believes.

Phil said: "I knew people took risks bringing cigarettes back from their holidays so I thought it would be worthwhile me doing the same but to sell on.

"I will travel anywhere -Tenerife, Germany, Gibraltar - to bring back tax and duty free cigarettes and alcohol.

"All we are doing is bringing the goods closer to the people who want them. It is perfectly legal.

"I have nothing to hide.

"We started to think about becoming pirates, modern day prirates, and that is what we are."

On each run, Phil, 46, and his partner Trevor Lyons, 53, from the Stoke area, bring back up to 5,000 boxes of 200 cigarettes and a thousand litres of spirits.

They are then sold from the Rich Harvest until the supply runs out. When this happens, another trip abroad will be made to stock up.

Each person, who has to make their own way out to the yacht, is allowed to buy a maximum of 30 boxes of cigarettes and the same in litres of alcohol.

However, the purchases must be for their own consumption as it is illegal to re-sell the goods onshore.

Trevor said: "It is a legitimate run taking advantage of a loophole which for the time being will remain open."

Phil, who has taken on the off shore off-licence as a full time project, added: "At the moment we are not making anything but it is very early days.

"Things are going steadily though and we hope once the business is up and running we could be making as much as 10,000 per week.''

A Customs and Excise spokesman said: "We are looking into this matter."