Criminal gang guilty of smuggling people to UK in back of refrigerated lorry
Five members of an organised criminal gang have been convicted of smuggling people into the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry.
The gang’s activities were uncovered during a four-year investigation by the National Crime Agency.
During the investigation, the group were put under 24-hour surveillance.
In the early hours of 11 March 2019, NCA officers watched as members of the gang drove their people carrier to meet up with a lorry on an industrial estate in Runcton, west Sussex.
The truck, driven by Romanian national Marinel Palage, had arrived in Portsmouth on a ferry from Caen in northern France the previous evening.
It was carrying a legitimate load of spinach from Spain. It was also carrying at least three people who had been brought to the UK illegally.
After meeting up with the lorry, the people carrier picked up the illegal imigrants and drove them to meet up with two cars on the A27.
One of the cars, a Vauxhall Astra, was stopped later be NCA officers. The car had been driven by gang member Mariwan Mustafa.
Two Iraqi nationals - a sister and brother aged 18 and 13 - were in the passenger seats.
The second car, an Audi A3, was stopped by police on the M3 and a 30-year-old Iraqi woman was found.
Palage attempted to run off as NCA officers approached his truck, but he was detained and arrested.
During a search of his cab, plastic bags containing £34,500 in cash were found. Further bundles of euros and to the value of around €7,000 were located hidden behind a tachograph panel.
Later that morning, the people carrier was stopped at Liphook services on the A3. In the driver’s seat was Goran Jalal, 37, from Bradford, the ringleader of the network.
He later absconded from bail and is now wanted by authorities.
In the passenger seat was gang member Kamaran Kader, 44, also from Bradford.
NCA investigators pieced together the conspiracy following the seizure of phones, identifying other members of the group. They identified at least two other suspected people smuggling events into Portsmouth in January and March 2019.
Phone evidence showed that Pshtewan Ghafour, aged 37 and from Middlesbrough, had travelled down to Portsmouth with Jalal, Kader on the same nights that Palage arrived in his lorry on a ferry from France.
Analysis of the cash seized from Palage’s lorry found Ghafour and Kader’s fingerprints on the bags and enveopes containing the money.
Two other members of the group were identified through phone evidence - Manchester duo Jamal Saied, aged 38, and Hemin Salih, aged 37. They were also found to have been in the Chichester area on the night of the 11 March handover.
Following a four week trial at Bournemouth Crown Court, Palage and Ghafour were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
They were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on 13 April, alongside Kader who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
Saied and Mustafa were found guilty of facilitating illegal immigration. Salih absconded before the start of the trial, but was convicted of the same offence in his absence. They will be sentenced on 20 April.