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  1. ITV Report

Smugglers who brought twenty illegal immigrants to the UK on a ferry are 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 Photo: PA

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:

On inspection, a number of people were found within the lorry.

In total, 20 people were taken out of the lorry and detained.

They consisted of 19 Albanians and one Syrian, none of whom had permission to enter the UK."

– Prosecutor Paul Abrahams
The illegal immigrants were hidden in the back of a lorry that came into the UK on a DFDS ferry. Credit: PA

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:

It was not on purpose".

– HGV driver Marek Niedziechi

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.

£140 k
The estimated combined total the immigrants paid for 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:

These offences call for deterrent sentences.

The problem with immigration control is a substantial one that causes considerable public concern."

– Judge Sarah Mallett

The judge said the conspiracy was "not the most sophisticated" but added:

The motivation was commercial, with no suggestion it had any humanitarian aspect to it.

All involved in it were motivated by profit, in the full knowledge immigration controls were being circumvented.

That is damaging nationally, but also involves exploitation of those in dangerous, vulnerable and distressing circumstances.

There is a necessity to deter others from becoming involved in what can be extremely lucrative."

– Judge Sarah Mallett

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:

They conspired with each other, and others unknown, it was not a closed agreement, to facilitate unlawful entry to a member state of the European Union.

We say these three men, with others that we cannot identify, agreed to smuggle people into the UK who had no right to remain, they were not from the UK or EU citizens.

It is the Crown's case Gjolla is the organiser, he facilitated it, set it up, did the running around, organising.

Niedziechi is the transporter.

Mekolli is there to assist Gjolla move the people once they are in the UK."

– Prosecutor Paul Abrahams
Border Force officials found one Syrian and 19 Albanian nationals in the back of a sealed HGV vehicle at North Shields Tyne port terminal Credit: PA

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:

Nineteen Albanians and one Syrian end up on a lorry, one of whom has sent a message to Gjolla, who happens to know the lorry driver."

– Prosecutor Paul Abrahams

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".