Three men jailed for people smuggling into North East ferry terminal

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Three men who were part of an organised crime group trying to smuggle people into the UK have been jailed.

The trio were found guilty of conspiring to facilitate unlawful entry into the UK at Newcastle Crown Court, with Ferdinand Gjolla jailed for eight years, Marek Niedzwiecki sentenced to five years and Armando Mekolli imprisoned for three years, the Home Office said.

Border Force officers at the North Shields ferry terminal at the Port of Tyne inspected a lorry which had arrived from Ijmuiden, Holland, on September 1 2015.

Twenty people - 19 from Albania and one from Syria - were found hidden in the trailer which was carrying machinery.

The Home Office sad the driver, 33-year-old Polish national Niedzwiecki, was arrested and the investigation was passed to Immigration Enforcement Criminal and Financial Investigation officers.

Forensic evidence showed that Niedzwiecki had been in contact with other people and the investigation led officers to an address in Redhill Avenue, Barnsley, which is Gjolla's home address.

On May 4 2016, officers executed a search warrant at that address.

Following further inquiries, Gjolla, 41, an Albanian national who is a naturalised British citizen, and his brother-in-law Mekolli, 30, were charged, along with Niedzwiecki, with conspiring to facilitate unlawful entry into the UK.

Investigators established that Gjolla was the main organiser, while Niedzwiecki, an HGV driver, was responsible for transporting the people into the UK, and Mekolli assisted Gjolla with the transportation of them once they arrived in the UK.

Rachael Luther, from the Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team, said: "This was a well-run organised crime group motivated by money. Their sole aim was to breach the UK's immigration controls and bring people into the UK illegally.

"The sentences handed out yesterday should serve as a warning to anyone tempted to get involved in the vile trade of people smuggling. We will catch you, and put you before the courts.

"We continue to work closely with Border Force colleagues to rigorously investigate allegations of immigration-related criminality."

Of the 20 people found in the back of the lorry, 16 have been returned to Albania.

The Home Office said the cases of the remaining four are being progressed in line with the immigration rules.