Phytosanitary legislation is widely thought to be the most effective means of limiting the entry of alien pathogens without hindering trade. However, there is increasing evidence of limitations and weaknesses in phytosanitary systems worldwide. One such case is the entry and establishment of Colletotrichum acutatum in the UK in the 1980s. To investigate this further, data sets of disease incidence gathered by the authorities responsible for plant health between 1984 and 2008 were analysed to determine how and why the pathogen entered the UK and became established on strawberries. Results suggest that the disease entered the UK in 1982 on plants originating from the USA, a year earlier than the first UK record of the disease was reported. At least 54 further cases of infested plant material breached phytosanitary procedures and entered the UK, 75% of which originated from EU countries. Moreover, internal trade transmission was found to be highly influential in the successful spread of the disease. The effectiveness of phytosanitary procedures is limited when the sector is importing large numbers of plants from nurseries that have a track record of selling infested plant material, even if they are accompanied by a plant passport. By taking greater responsibility in limiting the spread of quarantine diseases, nurseries throughout the EU have an important role to play in limiting the entry of alien pathogens.