Three men from the East Midlands - including a man from Heanor - who attempted to smuggle 20 people into the UK in three separate incidents have been jailed for a total of 11 and a half years.
All three attempts were detected by Border Force officers at Dover’s Eastern Docks and the same modus operandi was used on each occasion.
The migrants who were found had been hidden in the rear of Mercedes Sprinter vans, in voids behind boxes of household items.
In an attempt to distract Border Force detector dogs, the floors of the vans had also been covered with paprika.
When questioned by Border Force officers, the drivers all gave virtually identical cover stories; that they had purportedly been to Germany to collect goods from house clearances.
Paul Morgan, director of Border Force South East and Europe, said: “These were clearly carefully planned operations designed to circumvent the UK’s stringent border controls.
“Border Force officers will continue to work with law enforcement colleagues to ensure that people smugglers and traffickers, who have no concern for those whose lives they so often put at risk, face the full consequences of their crimes.”
The first attempt was intercepted in the early hours of Sunday, 19 February, 2017.
The driver of the van was Michael James Gillett, 29, of Newton Drive, Heanor.
Five adults - one man and four women - and a child aged nine who all claimed to be from Iraq were found in the rear of the vehicle.
The second van, driven by Peter David Langston, 31, of Godfrey Street, Netherfield, Nottingham, was stopped on 22 May, 2017.
Eight people - one man, five women, a six-year-old child and a baby aged eight months, who all claimed to be Iraqi – were found in the rear of the vehicle.
The final stop was made on 30 May, 2017. The van was driven by Horace Montague Wallace, 43, of Selwyn Close, Nottingham, and officers found six women, all claiming to be from Iraq, in the rear.
Each of the men was arrested by Border Force at the time of the individual incidents and the investigations passed to Immigration Enforcement Criminal and Financial Investigation (CFI) officers.
Forensic interrogation of Gillett’s mobile phone and one of the illegal migrant’s phones showed the same number of an unknown third party stored on both.
Mobile phone data also showed Gillett had not been to Germany on that trip.
Mobile phone evidence showed Langston’s phone in use in the UK, France and Belgium but not in Germany.
A sat nav found in the van did not have any addresses outside the UK entered in it.
Wallace declined to answer any questions put to him by CFI officers.
Further enquiries showed Langston’s mobile number stored in Wallace’s phone.
Call data for Wallace’s mobile phone showed that the phone was used in the UK, Belgium and France but not Germany over the period he claimed to have been abroad.
The men were jailed at Canterbury Crown Court on Wednesday.
Wallace, who had maintained his innocence, was convicted after a trial, and sentenced to five years.
Langston, who changed his plea to guilty on the first day of his trial after initially denying the offence, was jailed for four years and six months.
Gillett, who had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing, was jailed for two years.
Assistant director David Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement Criminal and Financial Investigation team, said: “The danger of placing these people, including two children and a baby, unrestrained inside the unsecured loads was huge. Had there been a collision then there was a real likelihood of serious injury, but Gillett, Langston and Wallace were unconcerned about the safety of their human cargo. This was a pitiless attempt to profit from the vile trade of people smuggling.
“There is significant circumstantial evidence to suggest that this was a co-ordinated operation. We will work hard to bring anyone else found to be connected to these incidents to justice.”
The 20 people found in the vans were passed to immigration officials.
Their cases are being dealt with in line with the immigration rules.
- Anyone with information about suspected immigration abuse can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously or visit http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org.