Comfortable journey with quality of service guarantee.
Shakean Singh Chahal (29), of Meeting Street, Wednesbury, was the head of the gang, and had links to the French underworld.
The former bus driver arranged the pick-ups and organised for the passports of similar looking people to be obtained.
When police swooped on June 6, he managed to escape into surrounding woodland, only to be arrested at an off-licence in Walsall on August 13. Kalbinder Singh Gill (30), of Lower Forster Street, Walsall, and his brother Talbinder Gill (29), of Raven Road, Walsall, were Chahal's lieutenants.
Talbinder, who was also a bus driver, took part in the scam on his days off.
They arranged the hire cars used by the gang, plotted the route, and bought the ferry tickets.
Paul Slater-Mason (38), of Leveson Drive, Tipton, and Lee Ludbrook (43), of Belmont Gardens, Moxley, were the other two drivers.
Both were unemployed odd-job men who were recruited to help bring more people into the country.
The exact proceeds from the conspiracy are still being investigated, although Talbinder and Chahal are thought to have been the biggest beneficiaries.
Chahal, although unemployed at the time of his arrest, had a high performance Ferrari.
Detective Inspector Alan Edwards, of the National Crime Squad, said: 'They had been stopped over allegations of people smuggling earlier in 2001 and were on bail. 'We already knew about them, and then we received information that they had got back into business, so we started looking at them in more detail. 'We think they had been doing it for two or three years, and when we looked at the number of journeys they did to France in that period, we think up to 400 people could have been brought in.'
Typically one person from India would be brought in, and when they had made themselves legitimate in the UK, would send for their relatives to join them.
And the price paid meant the smugglers could be relied upon. Anybody who was stopped in the UK was told to tell the authorities they were hitch-hiking over, and they would be returned to France within hours rather than spending months in the UK asylum system.
Then they would be picked up, taken back to the safe house, and prepare to come over in the next consignment.
'There was like a quality of service guarantee,' said Det Insp Edwards.
The group was also involved in booze runs to the continent, which were also part of their cover story.
'The smugglers ran the operation like a business,' he added.
'The immigrants knew when they got to the safe house they were going to be looked after.
'They were not stuck in the back of airless trucks and hoping for the best. They were in people carriers and food and drink was available.
'They would be driven around, dropped at addresses, not dumped in locations.
'It worked on recommendations. If you know someone who has done a good job, you will go back to them time and time again.
'Forget advertising, these people cannot place their service in the Yellow Pages.'
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||May 29, 2004|
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