People smuggling network dismantled by National Crime Agency

  • Video report from ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw

Two leading figures in people smuggling networks behind the movements of hundreds of migrants both into and out of the UK, via the port of Dover have been arrested by the National Crime Agency.

The two men, aged 52 and 28 were detained on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration in NCA raids in London.

Another five people, all licensed mini-cab drivers, were also arrested by the NCA around east London, accused of being involved in transporting migrants to or from lorry pick-up and drop-off points.

  • Priti Patel, Home Secretary

Home secretry, Priti Patel was present at the raid, and said: "It's the culminations of an investigation that's been taking place over the last twelve months into organised immigration crime"

"Quite frankly what we see around people trafficking and the facilitation of illegal migrants is appalling".

"The individuals that have been arrested this morning have been associated with the most appalling people tracking through an enormous people trafficking network".

The people arrested were part of a large network trafficking people through Dover Credit: ITV News Meridian

NCA investigators also identified a safe house in Mile End, in which 11 suspected migrants were detained.

The property had been converted to accommodate at least 19 people, with bunk beds filling every room. Seven people were handed to the immigration authorities.

The operation, which involved more than 130 officers, follows a lengthy investigation by the NCA into the network, codenamed Operation Symbolry.

  • Inside the safe house

The organised crime group has connections in both Europe and Asia, using a network of predominately Romanian lorries to move migrants across the Channel from France into Kent.

NCA Deputy Director of Investigations Chris Farrimond said: "People smugglers are ruthless, treating migrants as a commodity and they do not care about the safety of those they transport. We have seen this, tragically, in recent and historic mass fatalities".

  • Police locate migrants hidden in a lorry

Operation Symbolry has seen seven people, including six lorry drivers, arrested and charged with people smuggling offences. Five have been convicted, after their trucks were intercepted outbound and migrants were found.

In total Operation Symbolry has intercepted over a hundred migrants. Three were attempting to leave the UK illegally were wanted by UK law enforcement.

The investigation has been supported by the Metropolitan Police, Kent Police, Surrey Police, Hertfordshire Police, Thames Valley Police, Essex Police and Immigration Enforcement.

NCA officers prepare to enter the building where the two suspects were arrested. Credit: National Crime Agency

Kent Refugee Action Network released a statement, following the NCA operation. It read: "This looks like the government taking tough action but doesn't deal effectively with any of the complex issues around claiming asylum in the UK. No one would use a people smuggler if there were other options available".