Jail for people traffickers who tried to smuggle 20 illegal immigrants through Port of Tyne in a lorry

The people traffickers tried to smuggle 20 illegal immigrants into the UK on a lorry on board a DFDS ferry which arrived at the Port of Tyne.
The people traffickers tried to smuggle 20 illegal immigrants into the UK on a lorry on board a DFDS ferry which arrived at the Port of Tyne.

People smugglers who arranged for 20 illegal immigrants to be hidden in the back of a lorry which came into the UK on a DFDS ferry have been put behind bars.

Border Force officials found a Syrian and 19 Albanian nationals in the back of a sealed HGV vehicle at the Port of Tyne terminal at North Shields on September 1, 2015.

Officials had reported a "foisty" smell when the back of the vehicle, which came from Holland, and was supposed to be transporting electrical equipment, was opened for inspection and one officer "noticed feet".

Prosecutor Paul Abrahams told Newcastle Crown Court: "On inspection, a number of people were found within the lorry.

"In total, 20 people were taken out of the lorry and detained. They consisted of 19 Albanians and one Syrian, none of whom had permission to enter the UK."

HGV driver Marek Niedziechi, 33, who worked for a delivery firm based in Warsaw in his Polish homeland, told investigators he had travelled from Rimini in Italy, through Luxembourg, Belgium and Rotterdam to the Netherlands.

He denied knowing there were people being smuggled in the back of his lorry and told detectives: "It was not on purpose."

But the court heard Niedziechi conspired with two Albanian nationals, Ferdinand Gjolla, 41, who is now a British citizen, and his brother-in-law Armand Mekolli, 30, to smuggle the people in.

All three were tried and convicted by a jury on a charge of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful entry to a member state of the European Union between June 2013 and October 2015.

The court heard the immigrants may have paid a combined total of around £140,000 to take part in the illegal trip.

The human trafficking trio have now all been given long prison sentences to deter others from involvement in the "appalling but profitable" trade.

Judge Sarah Mallett said: "These offences call for deterrent sentences.

"The problem with immigration control is a substantial one that causes considerable public concern."

The judge said the conspiracy was "not the most sophisticated", but added: "The motivation was commercial, with no suggestion it had any humanitarian aspect to it.

"All involved in it were motivated by profit, in the full knowledge immigration controls were being circumvented.

"That is damaging nationally, but also involves exploitation of those in dangerous, vulnerable and distressing circumstances.

"There is a necessity to deter others from becoming involved in what can be extremely lucrative."

Lorry driver Niedziechi was jailed for five years, and organiser Gjolla was jailed for eight years.

Mekolli, who would transport the immigrants once they were in the UK and also admitted having forged documents, was jailed for three years and three months.

Mr Abrahams told the court: "We say these three men, with others that we cannot identify, agreed to smuggle people into the UK who had no right to remain.

"Gjolla is the organiser, he facilitated it, set it up, did the running around, organising.

"Niedziechi is the transporter. Mekolli is there to assist Gjolla move the people once they are in the UK."

The court heard the Albanians found in the lorry were deported almost immediately, but the Syrian man claimed asylum in the UK.

He told investigators he had travelled from Syria through Europe to try to reach his wife in Britain.

The court heard Niedziechi was carrying seven mobile phone Sim cards when he was arrested at the North Shields port.

Mr Abrahams told jurors telephone records, cell site analysis and number plate recognition cameras proved the link between the three accused men.