Smugglers hid Syrian and Albanian immigrants in back of lorry aboard ferry, court told


People smugglers arranged for twenty illegal immigrants to be hidden in the back of a lorry that came into the UK on a DFDS ferry, a court heard.

Border Force officials found one Syrian and 19 Albanian nationals in the back of a sealed HGV vehicle at North Shields Tyne port terminal, which was supposed to be transporting electrical equipment, on September 1 2015.

Newcastle Crown Court heard officials had reported a "foisty" smell when the back of the vehicle, which came from Holland, was opened for inspection and one officer "noticed feet".

Prosecutor Paul Abrahams told the 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 one Albanian 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".

Prosecutors claim Niedziechi conspired with Albanian nationals Ferdinand Gjolla, 41, who is now a British citizen and Armand Mekolli, 30, to facilitate unlawful entry into the UK, which they all deny.

All three men are being tried 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, which they have pleaded not guilty to.

Mr Abrahams told the court: "They conspired with each other, and others unknown, it was not a closed agreement, to facilitate unlawful entry to a member state of the European Union.

"We say these three men, with others that we cannot identify, agreed to smuggle people into the UK who had no right to remain, they were not from the UK or EU citizens.

"It is the Crown's case 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 Albanian nationals found in the lorry were deported almost immediately whereas 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.

He said he initially stayed around Calais in France but then a friend advised him to travel to Belgium, where he met some Albanians and was taken to the Netherlands, where he and the others were put in the lorry in a "quiet area".

The court heard lorry driver 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 prove a link between the three accused men.

He told the court there was a meeting in Bracknell, Essex, where arrangements were made between Niedziechi and Gjolla just over a week before illegal cargo of people was brought into the UK.

Mr Abrahams said Gjolla travelled to the Netherlands from his home in Yorkshire two days before the ferry set sail, to "set up" the smuggling.

Records show one of the Albanian immigrants, who was carrying a mobile phone when he was caught, had been in contact with a phone linked to Gjolla.

Mr Abrahams told jurors: "Nineteen Albanians and one Syrian end up on a lorry, one of whom has sent a message to GJolla, who happens to know the lorry driver."

Prosecutors claim Gjolla and his brother-in-law Mekolli, both of Redhill Avenue, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, travelled to Cramlington on the morning the ferry arrived at North Shields and that Mekolli's mobile contacted Niedziechi's phone at around the time the vessel was due in the UK.

All three accused men deny involvement in the conspiracy.

The trial continues.