People smugglers who arranged for twenty illegal immigrants to be hidden in the back of a lorry that came into the UK on a DFDS ferry have been put behind bars.
Border Force officials found one Syrian and 19 Albanian nationals in the back of a sealed HGV vehicle at North Shields Tyne port terminal, which was supposed to be transporting electrical equipment, on September 1 2015.
Newcastle Crown Court heard officials had reported a "foisty" smell when the back of the vehicle, which came from Holland, was opened for inspection and one officer "noticed feet".
Prosecutor Paul Abrahams told the court:
HGV driver Marek Niedziechi, 33, who worked for a delivery firm based in Warsaw in his Polish homeland, told investigators he had travelled from Rimini in Italy, through Luxembourg, Belgium and Rotterdam to the Netherlands.
He denied knowing there were people being smuggled in the back of his lorry and told detectives:
The court heard Niedziechi conspired with Albanian nationals Ferdinand Gjolla, 41, who is now a British citizen and Armand Mekolli, 30, to facilitate unlawful entry into the UK, which they all denied.
All three men were tried and convicted by a jury on a charge of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful entry to a member state of the European Union between June 2013 and October 2015.
The court heard the immigrants may have paid a combined total of around £140,000 to take part in the illegal trip.
The human trafficking trio have now all been given long prison sentences to deter others from involvement in the "appalling but profitable" trade of the world's most desperate people.
Judge Sarah Mallett said:
The judge said the conspiracy was "not the most sophisticated" but added:
Lorry driver Niedziechi was jailed for five years.
Organiser Gjolla was jailed for eight years.
Mekolli, who would transport the immigrants once they were in the UK and also admitted having forged documents, was jailed for three years and three months.
Mr Abrahams told the court:
The court heard the Albanian nationals found in the lorry were deported almost immediately whereas the Syrian man claimed asylum in the UK.
He told investigators he had travelled from Syria through Europe to try to reach his wife in Britain.
He said he initially stayed around Calais in France but then a friend advised him to travel to Belgium, where he met some Albanians and was taken to the Netherlands, where he and the others were put in the lorry in a "quiet area".
The court heard lorry driver Niedziechi was carrying seven mobile phone sim cards when he was arrested at the North Shields port.
Mr Abrahams told jurors telephone records, cell site analysis and number plate recognition cameras proved the link between the three accused men.
He told the court there was a meeting in Bracknell, Essex, where arrangements were made between Niedziechi and Gjolla just over a week before illegal cargo of people was brought into the UK.
Mr Abrahams said Gjolla travelled to the Netherlands from his home in Yorkshire two days before the ferry set sail, to "set up" the smuggling.
Records show one of the Albanian immigrants, who was carrying a mobile phone when he was caught, had been in contact with a phone linked to Gjolla.
Mr Abrahams told jurors:
The court heard Gjolla and his brother-in-law Mekolli, both of Redhill Avenue, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, travelled to Cramlington on the morning the ferry arrived at North Shields and that Mekolli's mobile contacted Niedziechi's phone at around the time the vessel was due in the UK.
The court heard none of the men have criminal records and their lawyers said the conspiracy was a "one off".