Five members of an organised crime group have been found guilty of smuggling migrants into the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry through Portsmouth port.
The gang’s activities were uncovered following a four-year investigation by the National Crime Agency, and a surveillance operation that led to their arrests.
In the early hours of 11 March 2019, NCA officers watched as members of the group drove their VW Touran people carrier to rendezvous with a lorry driven by Romanian national Marinel Danut Palage, aged 31, at an industrial estate in Runcton, West Sussex.
PICTURED (L-R): Marinel Danut Palage, Pshtewan Majid Ghafour, Jamal Walid Saied, Mariwan Tofiq Mustafa and Hemin Salih
The truck had arrived in Portsmouth on a ferry from Caen in northern France the previous evening, and was carrying a legitimate load of spinach from Spain.
It was also carrying at least three people who had been brought to the UK illegally.
After meeting up with the lorry the VW drove away, only to stop in a layby on the A27, where migrants were transferred into two further cars.
One, 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 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 attempted to run off as NCA officers approached his truck, but he was detained 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 (pictured right), 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 having absconded following his arrest.
In the passenger seat was gang member Kamaran Kader, 44, also from Bradford.
NCA investigators 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.
Phone evidence showed that Pshtewan Ghafour, aged 37 and from Middlesbrough, had travelled down to Portsmouth with Jalal, Kader on the same nights that Palage arrived in his lorry on a ferry from France.
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 11 March handover.
Following a four week trial at Bournemouth Crown Court, Palage and Ghafour were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration today (Tuesday 14 March).
They were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on 13 April, alongside Kader who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
Saied and Mustafa were found guilty of facilitating illegal immigration. Salih absconded before the start of the trial, but was convicted of the same offence in his absence. They will be sentenced on 20 April.
NCA Branch Commander Richard Harrison said: “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” .
“It is clear from the evidence we found that their sole reason was for profit, without any regard to the migrants safety.
“Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA, and working with our partners we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks involved.”