An award-winning flower dealer who had almost 1,500 orchid bulbs confiscated at Southampton docks has scored an important victory over officialdom.
Stanmore based Jacques Armand International Ltd was caught in the eye of a legal storm when customs officers swooped on a bulbs consignment in January last year.
The company has won awards at the Chelsea Flower Show and is widely respected in the horticultural world.
But customs said the bulbs, from India, were not accompanied by the right documentation - and they have been held in limbo at Kew Gardens ever since.
Now, however, a judge has accepted that Jacques Armand acted entirely in good faith and described customs' attitude as "unreasonable".
Judge Amanda Brown said the bulbs were not as rare as customs officers at first believed they were. Any error in providing the right documents was down to "a failure in the postal system", she told the First-Tier Tribunal.
The refusal to give back the bulbs to Jacques Armand had led to a "disproportionate outcome", the judge ruled. Jacques Amand had attacked the refusal as "draconian".
Bulbs mistaken for a piano
The company was "entirely supportive" of international efforts to stamp out the international black market in protected flora and fauna.
Customs officials had also been provided with the missing documentation as soon as Jacques Armand found out that the originals had been lost in the post.
There had also reportedly been embarrassing mistakes by customs, including referring to the bulbs in one document as "a piano", the company pointed out.
Judge Brown said the bulbs posed "no risk to the UK flora population", customs officers had simply followed their usual policy not to restore seized goods, save in 'exceptional' cases.
'The decision gave rise to a disproportionate outcome', the judge ruled, ordering the Director of Border Revenue to reconsider the case.