A people smuggler has been jailed after admitting trying to travel through Harwich International Port with 22 Afghan nationals hidden in the back of his lorry.
Border Force officers made the discovery when they stopped a lorry driven by 32-year-old Tomasz Cierniak on 2 February 2016, after it had arrived at the port on a ferry from the Hook of Holland.
Cierniak – a Polish national – told officers that he was carrying electronic goods and when the lorry’s rear doors were opened, washing machines and tumble dryers were found stacked three high and four across.
Officers unloaded the lorry and 22 people – including five children – were found in a purposely created gap between the heavily loaded back and the front of the trailer.
Cierniak – who had no fixed UK address – was arrested on suspicion of facilitating a breach of the UK’s immigration laws and the investigation was passed to Immigration Enforcement’s criminal and financial investigations (CFI) team.
Following his initial arrest, Cierniak was bailed pending further investigation, but failed to report to Colchester Police Station.
CFI officers obtained a European Arrest Warrant – and on 23 May 2017, Cierniak was arrested by police officers in Italy. He was extradited to the UK and remanded in custody.
During the investigation, it discovered that the lorry Cierniak was driving had been branded in the livery of a multinational haulage company – but the business confirmed to investigators that the company had never owned the vehicle.
Checks also showed that the company Cierniak was supposedly delivering the goods to had no dealings with the business he said he worked for.
On Monday 10 July 2017, Cierniak pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court – and on Thursday he was sentenced at the same court to three years and eight months in jail.
Rebecca Webb from the immigration enforcement CFI team said:
“The dangers of cramming this group into a small space behind a wall of heavy goods during a six-hour ferry crossing are obvious – but Cierniak was content to put the lives of 22 desperate people at risk.
“People smuggling is a callous trade – and those involved think nothing of treating human beings as commodities.
“Cierniak thought he could evade justice, but we – along with our law enforcement partners in Europe – never stopped looking.
“As this case demonstrates, we work closely with Border Force and other criminal enforcement agencies, both in the UK and abroad.
“Our net is wide and the message to anyone involved in immigration criminality is clear – we will catch you and bring you before the courts.”
Border Force officers are the frontline in protecting the country and play a key role in detecting illegal immigration, disrupting serious and organised crime and helping to prevent the threat of terrorism using different search techniques, including sniffer dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners – as well as visual searches – to find well hidden stowaways, illegal drugs, firearms and tobacco.
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Duncan Lewis represents clients at Police Stations, Magistrates' Courts, Crown Courts, and at Appeal courts such as the Court of Appeal - and has highly experienced Higher Court Advocated with a background in conducting serious matters such as murder and rape.
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