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Single complaint sparks police raid and total ban on rental movie

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Northampton police have seized A Serbian Film from Blockbusters, despite the fact that the version on offer had been approved by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The raid’s chilling effect was instant, with Blockbuster taking down links to the film from their website and removing it from from stores across the UK, presumably while their lawyers consider their position.

An official statement from Northampton Police yesterday suggests that it was all a bit of a misunderstanding: the "gentleman’s agreement" to the effect that police and prosecuting authorities will leave alone material that has been classified by the BBFC remains intact, and the film can now go back on hire.

However, the story is a powerful reminder of the devastating effect a single complaint can have on a national business.

Northamptonshire Police explained that a member of the public had reported the film on the grounds that it contained images of child abuse – and queried whether the copy being rented was in fact the same version as that approved by the BBFC.

A spokeswoman for that force said: "We have a duty to investigate such claims and in agreement with the manager of the shop took a copy away to view and check that it was the edition that has been approved by the British Board of Film Classification for distribution.

"It has been established as a legitimate copy of the film that has been approved for distribution by the BBFC and so is being returned to the shop."

BBFC spokeswoman Sue Clark told us: "We can confirm that we have classified this film '18' with cuts and that in doing so we would have taken account of all relevant UK laws. We have a close relationship with the law enforcement agencies who keep us abreast of what is likely to fall foul of the law. We would not have given the film a certificate if we had considered it in breach of any UK law."

We were first alerted to the raid this week. A quick check on the Blockbuster website revealed that A Serbian Film was, indeed, no longer to be found. A search revealed only a standard apology from Blockbuster: "We're sorry, but the title you requested could not be displayed. This may have occurred because the title is temporarily out of stock, or has been removed from our database."

On requesting the film from a branch, we were told by the store manager that it had been pulled nationally.

However, a quick check of cached pages confirmed that it had been on Blockbuster’s site at least as recently as 15 January.

Would-be viewers interested in renting this work – the tale of a porn star being lured into participating in ever more extreme, violent and pornographic scenes through the administration of large quantities of drugs and money – are presented with the Blockbuster equivalent of a government health warning.

Its write-up begins: "This film contains material that may not be suitable for sensitive viewers. Filmmaker Srdjan Spasojevic pushes the boundaries of what can (or should) be shown on screen in this violent and malignly erotic thriller".

This was confirmed by our helpful manager – who preferred to remain anonymous for reasons of job security – who admitted that he had watched the film "in order to see what all the fuss was about” and that “it had made him feel physically sick".

He added: "I cannot imagine why anyone would want to watch something like that."

We did ask Blockbuster for an official comment, but none was forthcoming. ®

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