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Police end 'club-class' conspiracy; A scam to smuggle illegal immigrants into the Midlands in five-star luxury was smashed following an investigation by police in France and the UK, writes Crime Reporter John Revill.

A s they drove along the A2 in Kent, the people smugglers thought they were in the clear.

Less than 17 miles from Dover, with their precious cargo of immigrants intact after passing through Customs, they believed they were on the home straight.

But, unknown to them, the cars in front and behind were unmarked police cars belonging to the National Crime Squad and Kent Police.

At Broughton, near Canterbury, the two people carriers and van used by the gang were forced off the road and into a lay-by.

The smugglers and their passengers scattered into the surrounding countryside where they were rounded up and arrested.

Police had finally cracked a conspiracy to import illegal immigrants into the UK in so called 'club class' comfort.

In return for a premium price of between pounds 8,000 and pounds 11,000 immigrants were offered a more comfortable way to get into the UK, instead of the usual back of a truck or in a container.

Hundreds of illegal immigrants are thought to have enjoyed a door-to-door service to the Midlands, where they are believed to have entered the underground economy.

The gang had links to the French underworld, who they contacted to arrange the pickup of illegal immigrants smuggled in to Europe from India.

To help them get into Britain descriptions were taken of the illegal immigrants and passports obtained with similar pictures.

When the handover took place, at car parks in northern France, the passports were given to the immigrants who would then pose as tourists.

After boarding a ferry, some of the immigrants even bought duty free cigarettes and alcohol to add to their disguise.

The smugglers had tried out the route several times and are thought to have brought up to 400 people into the UK.

They carried out dry runs to check on which days and in which cars they were most likely to be stopped by immigration officials when the ferry reached Dover.

Some of the gang had been stopped in the summer of 2002, but by the turn of the year the racket had started up again.

The NCS then set up Operation Gular to investigate.

The inquiry, part of the Government's Reflex initiative to tackle people smuggling, also involved Kent Police, the Immigration Service, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and Customs and Excise.

Unusually, it also involved a high degree of cooperation with the French equivalent of the NCS, the Ocriest.

A lengthy intelligence and surveillance operation was set up to collect evidence and establish how the gang operated.

On June 6, word was received that the gang was attempting another trip.

A back-log had built up in France, so a van was hired in Birmingham to pick up 14 immigrants and take them across the Channel. The van was tailed by NCS officers to France, and back again From the pick up in France, the smugglers were under covert surveillance, an operation which ended with the swoop on the A2.

All were charged with conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration.

Detective Inspector Roy Cottam, of Kent Police Organised Crime Unit, said: 'This was a textbook operation encompassing Kent, the NCS, and the French police.

'Liaison between the countries has helped to totally dismantle this organised people smuggling network. Even Chahal, who fled the scene, was arrested and captured shortly after the initial strike.

'Geographically, Kent Police sits within one of the main entry points into the UK and has developed specialist skills regarding the investigation of people smuggling networks.

'The force and its law enforcement partners will continue to target individuals who attempt to breach UK immigration laws by bringing illegal immigrants into the UK.

'We will ensure that strong evidence is always produced to the courts in an effort to obtain long prison sentence for those individuals who seek to finance a high class lifestyle from people's misery.'

CAPTION(S):

Lorries at Dover are searched thoroughly to try and prevent illegal immigrants being smuggled in but the Midland smuggling gang used a higher class of transport
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 29, 2004
Words:673
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