The risks taken by the crime group responsible for the deaths of 39 migrants found in a lorry container in Essex were “sadly not unusual”, a senior Immigration Enforcement official has said.
Steve Dann, director of crime and financial investigations within the Immigration Enforcement unit at the Home Office, said people being trafficked were seen as a commodity, no different to drugs or tobacco.
“In relation to the risk, sadly the organised crime groups have complete disregard for the people, the commodity as they see it,” he said.
“Whether it’s drugs or tobacco, this is just another commodity and they take no interest at all in the health and wellbeing of the migrants.
“I’ve seen some horrendous conditions, people being brought in.
“People have been brought in unresponsive because they’re in a coffin-like hide within a vehicle or within a vessel, so sadly no this is not unusual.
“The numbers were high for a single incident but the crime groups, their methodology, they have complete disregard.”
The criminal gang brought the container into the UK through Purfleet port in Essex.
“I can’t say whether they saw this (entry point) as a soft touch,” Mr Dann added.
He said that since the incident in October 2019, his agency has worked with colleagues in Zeebrugge in Belgium, where the container began its journey to the UK.
“We’ve increased our deployments of resources over in Zeebrugge. The same way in the UK we’ve increased our response,” he said.
“We’ve developed a multi-agency hub to develop intelligence, to share intelligence quicker, there’s a number of different initiatives that have taken place with this.”
He said that the “link hadn’t been drawn” when French authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle migrants across the Channel on October 14, nine days before the 39 migrants were found dead on October 23.
On October 14, a vehicle driven by haulier Christopher Kennedy was stopped at Coquelles, near Calais in France, and 20 Vietnamese migrants were found in the back, the trial at the Old Bailey was told was told. They were frisked and taken away.
Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh had denied being part of the people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of 39 migrants.
“At that point the link hadn’t been drawn,” said Mr Dann.
“He (Kennedy) was in, I think, it was a Transit van coming in through Coquelles.”
He went on: “We have a joint intelligence cell with the French, so we do share intelligence daily and lots of intelligence as well.
“In relation to linking this, what we have to do with these incidents is start to develop the intelligence into an operation that allows us to identify the crime group behind it.
“Sometimes, depending on what we’re faced with, it can be done immediately and we do an immediate response, other times it’s about bringing different pieces of the jigsaw together to identify the crime group.”
He said his agency is “making every effort to disrupt” crime groups and that Immigration Enforcement has disrupted 430 organised crime groups so far this year through arrests and preventative action.
“We see the threats move, it’s quite an agile threat, crime groups are very agile,” he said.
“What we have to do is try to stay ahead of the game and be as agile as them.”