Five members of an organised crime group have been found guilty of smuggling migrants into the UK through Portsmouth port in the back of a refrigerated lorry. The gang’s activities were exposed following a four-year investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and a surveillance operation that led to their arrests.
The NCA officers watched as members of the group drove their VW Touran people carrier to rendezvous with a lorry driven by a Romanian national, Marinel Danut Palage, aged 31, at an industrial estate in Runcton, West Sussex in the early hours of March 11, 2019. The lorry had arrived in Portsmouth on a ferry from Caen, northern France, the previous evening, and was carrying a legitimate load of spinach from Spain. However, the truck was also carrying at least three people who had been brought to the UK illegally.
The VW drove away from the rendezvous point but stopped in a layby on the A27, where migrants were transferred into two further cars. One of the cars, a Vauxhall Astra, was stopped by the NCA on the A34 northbound, driven by gang member Mariwan Mustafa, aged 33. Two Iraqi nationals, a sister and brother aged 18 and 13, were found in the passenger seats. The second car, an Audi A3, was stopped by police on the M3, and a 30-year-old Iraqi woman was found.
Palage tried to run off as NCA officers approached his truck, but he was caught and arrested. During a search of his cab, plastic bags containing £34,500 cash were found. Further bundles of euros and sterling to the value of around £7,000 were located hidden behind a tachograph panel.
Later that morning, the VW Touran was stopped at Liphook services on the A3. In the driver’s seat was Goran Jalal, 37, from Bradford, who is the alleged ringleader of the network and was in contact with Palage to arrange the meet-up. He is now wanted by the NCA after absconding following his arrest. In the passenger seat was gang member Kamaran Kader, 44, also from Bradford.
The NCA pieced together the conspiracy following the seizure of phones, identifying other members of the group and at least two other suspected people smuggling events into Portsmouth in January and March 2019. Analysis of the cash seized from Palage’s lorry found Ghafour and Kader’s fingerprints on the bags and envelopes containing the money.
Two other members of the group were identified through phone evidence: Manchester duo Jamal Saied, aged 38, and Hemin Salih, aged 37. They were also found to have been in the Chichester area on the night of the March 11 handover.
Following a four-week trial at Bournemouth Crown Court, Palage and Pshtewan Ghafour, aged 37 and from Middlesbrough, were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration on Tuesday, March 14. They were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on April 13, alongside Kader who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing. Saied and Mustafa were found guilty of facilitating illegal immigration, and Salih was convicted of the same offence in his absence after absconding before the trial. They will be sentenced on April 20.
“This people smuggling group were content to put vulnerable migrants, including children, in the back of refrigerated lorries for hours on end during dangerous Channel crossings,” said NCA Branch Commander Richard Harrison. “It is clear from the evidence we found that their sole reason was for profit, without any regard to the migrants’ safety