A Romanian people-smuggler who trafficked Afghan refugees into the UK hidden inside ‘coffin-like’ wardrobes in ‘barbaric’ conditions has been jailed.
Children as young as two were among 35 people found ‘literally fixed and screwed’ into second-hand furniture in vans driven from France to Britain.
A court heard the refugees were found screaming for their lives at ports in Dover and Portsmouth between August and October, 2019.
Five men have previously been sentenced at Reading Crown Court for their roles but a sixth, Constantin, 36, fled to his native Romania.
Constantin was jailed today for three years and two months at Birmingham Crown Court after being extradited back to the UK to face justice.
Constantin was jailed today for three years and two months at Birmingham Crown Court after being extradited back to the UK to face justice
Children as young as two were among 35 people found ‘literally fixed and screwed’ into second-hand furniture in vans driven from France to Britain
During the sentencing, Judge Sarah Buckingham told Constantin ‘You helped to traffic them in appalling circumstances for financial reward, ‘They were transported like chattel’
He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate a breach of UK immigration laws and failing to surrender to bail
The court was told Constantin, of Walsall, West Midlands, acted as a ‘minder’ to assist gang members with transporting vans and drivers to France from Dover.
The hides, bought from charity shops and from which the migrants had no way of escaping, were used to conceal up to seven people per journey.
During the sentencing, Judge Sarah Buckingham told Constantin: ‘In 2019 you were part of a group who travelled to and from France using a van bought specifically for this purpose, using different routes and sometimes travelling on false plates.
‘The vans would contain second hand furniture bought from charity shops and then customised in order to conceal people inside the furniture and then transported back to the UK.
‘Human beings were literally fixed or screwed inside furniture that were put into the vans.
‘The space was confined, a confined space and hot and enclosed with little air. This was repeated and motivated by financial gain.
‘It was not motivated for humanitarian reasons. You were not helping out desperate family members, rather, strangers.
‘No doubt who had paid a lot of money to be transported who were, by their situation, age and circumstances, highly vulnerable.
‘The circumstances of their transportation were barbaric and dangerous.
‘They were vulnerable people desperate to escape life threatening circumstances in their own countries.
‘You helped to traffic them in appalling circumstances for financial reward. They were transported like chattel.’
Craig Evans, who was part of the prosecution, said vans were intercepted on six occasions at Dover and that 35 people of all ages, including one in a wheelchair were found.
He said ‘This case concerns the organised illegal smuggling of people into the UK over a number of months in 2019.
‘In short vans were purchased in the UK for the purpose of these trips.
‘Second hand furniture was bought from charity shops in the UK and put in the rear of the vans as cover.’
He said that those who were smuggled, all from Afghanistan, were concealed with the furniture and the drivers of the vans were all from Romania.
The conspiracy involved booking of hotels and flights while the organisers kept their distance and did not go on the trips.
Mr Evans said Constantin had been involved in one trip using a Mercedes Sprinter van in September, 2019.
On that occasion, seven people, including one who was in a wheelchair, were recovered from the vehicle while Constantin was arrested after travelling as a foot passenger on a ferry.
Mr Evans said the oldest refugee was 69 while the youngest was born in 2017 and added: ‘He kept himself a safe distance away when the riskiest part of the operation was being conducted, the illegal immigrants getting through the border.’
Hugh Mullan, who was part of the defence, said Constantin had succumbed to temptation after getting into a desperate financial situation and he had only been involved in the conspiracy for two weeks.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said after the case: ‘Attempts such as these to smuggle people, including children, into the UK in confined, coffin-like spaces are despicable and clear evidence of why our work to stop these gangs is so important.
‘I want to praise the work of our Immigration Enforcement officers who work tirelessly to prevent this activity and thank the Romanian authorities for their co-operation in this case.
‘Nobody should be risking their lives to come to the UK illegally.
‘Today’s case shows that we will stop at nothing to crack down on evil people smuggling gangs and bring them to justice.’
The sentencing of other gang members in May 2022 followed a two-year investigation by Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigations (CFI) Unit.
Home Office Immigration Enforcement Criminal and Financial Investigations Deputy Director, Ben Thomas, said: ‘This is an example of the appalling tactics employed by people-smuggling gangs.
‘These people will think nothing of crushing young children and disabled people into confined spaces and transporting them across Europe for money.
‘Our efforts to track down those responsible for smuggling attempts like this one are not limited to UK soil.
‘We will continue to work with our international partners to ensure criminals operating across the UK Border face justice for their crimes.’