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Former Bromley customs officer publishes thriller novel

PUBLISHED: 12:37 27 September 2012

Richard Allen

Richard Allen

Andy Barnes

To many people the life of a Customs officer is filled with rummaging through suitcases, strip searches and rubber gloves.

An Air Canada plane similar to the one seized by Richard.An Air Canada plane similar to the one seized by Richard.

However, one man wants to show that there is much more to the job through his debut novel, The Waterguard.

Richard Hernaman Allen, 63, of Petts Wood, has harboured ambitions of writing since he left Oxford University and started work as a civil servant in 1975.

Drawing from personal experience, the crime thriller involves some aspects of a job that meant Richard came face-to-face with all manner of unusual finds.

The father-of-two said: “The book uncovers a few secrets of Customs that people wouldn’t ordinarily see – like people being paid to let smugglers through.

Richard AllenRichard Allen

“You can uncover a lot of drugs, pornography and animals in the job.

“We would seize all sorts of weird things, from aeroplanes full of drugs, to cases of blow-up dolls, or even poisonous snakes.

“One time, we seized several hundred caged birds – these kept dying and the only way to count them was to tally up the amount that were at the bottom of the cage with their feet in the air.”

Cases like these were relatively minor in the wider picture of Richard’s daily battle against drug smuggling and tax evaders.

These heavy-hitting topics form the bulk of his novel. It took just two weeks to write and revolves around the struggles of Customs officer Nick Storey and a corpse found with smuggled diamonds.

Richard said: “It was a very quick write because I’m retired now and had more time to focus solely on the book.

“I had the idea to write a detective novel, but I thought that was a bit silly because I had so much Customs knowledge.

“There’s a lot of detective fiction, but very little with Customs and Excise as the focus. Customs people usually just appear mucking something up or being difficult.”

Having grown up in Loughborough, Leicestershire, where he penned poems and fiction from a young age, Richard moved to Bromley in 1970 with his teacher wife.

It was from his Bromley home that he began sending out chapters of his novel in the hope publishers would show an interest.

Now on sale, the book stands as a reminder of an era that Richard says disappeared about the time of his retirement in 2005.

He said: “Working for Customs and Excise was a really happy time for me. It was the sort of job where you felt as though you were making a difference.

“What I knew then has since been dispersed into various departments and is unrecognisable. In my writing I’ve tried to capture the period I worked in.”

Richard’s novel can be bought online via Amazon, price £6.99.

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