A man has been found guilty of being part of an organised crime group linked to the prolific smuggling of migrants to the UK by lorry.
Najib Khan, 38, from Ilford was identified as being part of the network by National Crime Agency investigators following the arrest of his co-conspirator Waqas Ikram, 40, from Dagenham in March 2021.
Ikram was detained during an NCA operation at South Mimms services, where he was caught red-handed attempting to break into an HGV to put migrants inside.
At the time of his arrest, Ikram was working for a people smuggling organised crime group (OCG) headed by Md Mokter Hossain.
Hossain was later jailed for more than 10 years for transporting migrants in lorries in both directions across the Channel following an NCA investigation codenamed Operation Symbolry.
However, an iPhone belonging to Ikram, seized following his arrest, contained numerous conversations with Khan outlining their involvement in a separate people smuggling network, charging migrants up to £7,000 a head to bring them to the UK.
Phone evidence showed that the two had been involved in a successful crossing involving five migrants being transported into Harwich in March 2019, and two other attempts that had been foiled by border agents.
The first of these was in May 2019, when 15 Vietnamese and one Afghan migrant were found in a lorry at the Hook of Holland as it prepared to board a ferry to Harwich.
And in August that year, 16 migrants in including 11 minors – were rescued from a purpose built concealment in a lorry carrying 2,000 loose tyres.
The lorry was preparing to board a ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven, and officers reported the heat and the nature of the concealment made breathing difficult.
The lorry drivers involved in both would later be jailed in the Netherlands and France, but the NCA was able to prove Ikram’s crime group had been involved in both attempts.
Further conversations between Khan and Ikram showed they were using GPS trackers to follow lorries that they had arranged to be broken into without drivers’ knowledge to stow migrants. One of the trackers was found at Khan’s house when he was arrested by the NCA.
In 2020, Khan and Ikram purchased a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) for the purpose of smuggling migrants, and Ikram attended a course for piloting powerboats that June.
In July, the pair were encountered by Border Force off the coast of Suffolk in their RHIB. They told officers they were scouting for scuba diving sites, and returned to Walton-on-the-Naze.
Ikram was arrested by the NCA for his role in Operation Symbolry in 2021, charged with people smuggling offences and released on bail by the court.
Both he and Khan were detained in connection with further offences by the NCA in July 2022 and charged with three counts of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
Ikram pleaded guilty to the charge, but Khan went to trial. Today [28 July] a jury at Reading Crown Court found him guilty on all three counts.
They will be sentenced on 30 October.
NCA branch commander Andy Noyes said:
“Ikram and Khan had no regard for the safety and security of those they were transporting, they were only interested in making money from them.
“In at least one case it was only the fact that the migrants were discovered by border agents that prevented them being left in what could have been an incredibly dangerous, and potential fatal, situation.
“They then moved their attentions to obtaining boats, but fortunately we were able to stop them before their plans progressed.
“Tackling people smuggling is a priority for the NCA, and we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the organised crime groups involved.”