Four arrested in op targeting migrant smuggling to UK by lorry

A group of people thought to be migrants are rescued off the coast of Folkestone, Kent in November

A group of people thought to be migrants are rescued off the coast of Folkestone, Kent in November - Credit: PA

Men from Ilford and Dagenham have been arrested in an operation targeting a gang linked to smuggling migrants to the UK by lorry.

A 39-year-old man was arrested in Dagenham yesterday morning - Tuesday, July 12 - on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.

He is alleged to be a senior member of the conspiracy according to the National Crime Agency (NCA) which led the investigation.

Meanwhile, a 37-year-old man was arrested in Ilford, and two further men aged 36 and 42 were detained at addresses in Streatham and Leytonstone - also on suspicion of facilitation offences.

All those arrested are due to be questioned by NCA officers.

The arrests are linked to two separate incidents in 2019, when 32 migrants were found in the back of HGVs in the Netherlands and France. 

Both drivers and another facilitator were later jailed in those countries.

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NCA investigators believe that members of the group were also involved in arranging for lorries to be broken into, with people loaded onto them without the drivers' knowledge.

Tracking devices were attached to the vehicles to locate them before migrants were placed in the rear as they continued their journey to the UK.

Group members are also suspected of obtaining a boat as part of their plans to bring migrants to the UK over the Channel.

NCA branch commander Andy Noyes said: “This operation has targeted those who we suspect are key members of a people smuggling crime group.

“Organised immigration crime is a chronic and dangerous threat and the smugglers pay no regard to the lives of the people they attempt to transport, whether that be by boat or in vehicles.

“While putting people in lorries might make the issue less visible to the public, it is no less dangerous to those being smuggled, and unfortunately we have seen the tragic consequences this can have.

The operation is the second mounted by the NCA in a week to target suspected people smugglers.

On July 5, around 40 people were arrested following a series of targeted raids carried out as part of a joint investigation with crime agency colleagues from around Europe.

The operation was said to be the biggest of its kind, and was sparked by the arrest of an alleged people-smuggling "kingpin" from Ilford.