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Two men guilty of smuggling illegal immigrants in container at port of Tilbury

TWO men have been jailed following an incident in which a man died inside a shipping container as he tried to make his way with his family to seek asylum in the UK.

Stephen Mclaughlin, 36, and Martin McGlinchey, 49, were convicted today – Thursday June 16 – of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the country following a re-trial at Basildon Crown Court.

Mclaughlin, of Rose Park, Limavardy, County Londonderry, was jailed for eight years and McGlinchey, of Derryloughlan Road, Dungannon, County Tyrone, for nine years.

A third man, Taha Sharif, 39, of High Cross Road, Tottenham, was found guilty of the same offence following a trial at Basildon Crown Court in July last year. He is due to be sentenced on June 23.

Thirty-five people were discovered inside a shipping container at the Port of Tilbury on August 16, 2014.

The ten men, ten women and 15 children were found by port staff just after 6.30am. They were all Afghan nationals who were seeking asylum.

One of the men, 40-year-old Meet Singh Kapoor, was found dead inside the container. A post mortem examination revealed he had died of natural causes.

However, his family, who were travelling with him, suffered the trauma of watching him die, knowing they were powerless to help or seek medical aid.

The container arrived in Tilbury after travelling on a P&O Ferry from Zebrugge Port in Belgium the previous night. The container had travelled from Dover to Calais on Thursday, August 14. The men, women and children in boarded it in Belgium and it started its return journey from Zeebrugge on Friday, August 15.

The court heard McGlinchy helped to organise the lorry’s movements and drove the container to Dover. Mclaughin supplied the lorry and allowed his shipping account to be used for the container’s outbound and inbound journeys. Sharif organised the loading of the people into the container.

Following the discovery of the people in the container, detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate launched an investigation, working with colleagues from the National Crime Agency, Port of Tilbury Police, Belgium Federal Police, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Metropolitan Police Service and the UK Border Force.

The court heard that the asylum seekers had paid thousands of pounds to travel to the UK. The Afghan Sikh nationals claimed in court that they were escaping persecution from radical Muslims in Afghanistan.

The adult men all described their occupations as shop keepers and they had paid around £28,000 per family for the crossing, selling their businesses, stock and family jewellery to pay for the migration.

When they were interviewed by officers they described being taken by various vehicles to the container which was on the back of a lorry and being told to climb into it.

They had to sit on top of bowsers within the container, their clothes getting wet. They become cold and sick as their 14 hour journey continued, becoming so scared that they feared for their lives. The container was dark and there were just two holes on the side of the container to let air through. There were no toilets and the children had to be sick into carrier bags.

They also described having difficulty breathing, praying to God to save their lives and believing that they were going to die, especially when other containers were loaded next to the one they were travelling in, closing the air holes.

When the container arrived at Tilbury, ports staff heard banging and opened it. They found the people inside and immediately called ambulance and police. The travellers were taken to various hospitals across south Essex where they received treatment for shock, exhaustion and dehydration.

Once they were well enough, they were interviewed by police and cared for by the local Sikh community of Thurrock, who offered their help after seeing reports on the news. They were later passed into the care of the UK Border Force agencies.

Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore, who led the investigation, said: "I welcome today’s verdict and sentence, which reflect the serious nature of this sickening crime.

"Vulnerable people seeking help were treated in an appalling way at the hands of these greedy criminals, which prevented any prospect of medical help for Mr Kapoor.

"My thoughts remain very much with his wife, children, family and friends, and the other surviving asylum seekers who endured such distressing and shocking conditions.

"I am very grateful to the local Sikh community and the Red Cross who in the days following the incident were instrumental in quickly building a rapport between the victims and police as well as providing food and essential items.

"This has been a long and complex investigation involving a number of agencies and I would like to thank everyone involved in this case for their assistance.”TWO men have been found guilty today at Basildon Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK, after the discovery of 35 people in a shipping container at Tilbury Docks, Essex, in August 2014.

Stephen McLaughlin and Martin McGlinchey denied attempting to smuggle the group, which included 15 children, in to the country. One male member of the group died inside the container.

Mr McLaughlin was today sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment and Mr McGlinchey was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. A third man, Taha Sharif, was found guilty of the same offence following a trial last year and is due to be sentenced on 23 June 2016.

Head of the Complex Casework Unit for East of England CPS, Paul Scothern, said: “The horrific conditions these people suffered should not be experienced by anyone, let alone 15 children. They paid these criminals huge amounts of money on the promise of a better life, but were instead put in a situation that stripped them of their basic human rights.

“The CPS is committed to prosecuting traffickers wherever possible to stop them putting people through inhumane conditions such as this.”

Basildon Crown Court heard how these two were part of a syndicate which had also been foiled just 11 days before, when 12 Afghan nationals were found sealed inside a lorry at a terminal in Coquelles, France.

Mr Scothern said: “This was a professional operation and each person played a vital role in the running of this conspiracy. Mr Mclaughlin and Mr McGlinchey were in regular contact to ensure the operation went smoothly.”

The immigrants were found in the early hours of the morning, the court was told, when dock workers at the Essex port heard knocking and shouting coming from inside.

Inside the container, there were 26 x 1000 litre plastic bowsers of liquid; they occupied the whole floor surface. The immigrants were on top of these bowsers; some of them appeared to be experiencing breathing difficulties, having been locked within the container all night.

One man, Meet Singh Kapoor who had been travelling with his wife and two children, was found to have died during the crossing.

East of England CPS considered whether any charges should have been brought in relation to his death but medical evidence showed that Mr Kapoor was suffering from severe heart disease and that his death was not caused by the actions of the defendants.

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