Woman jailed for people-smuggling after three found hiding in car

A woman has been jailed for people-smuggling after two women and a man were found hiding in the boot and passenger foot well of her car as she attempted to drive them into the UK, the Home Office has said.

Officers discovered the stowaways - two of whom were unresponsive and had to be rushed to hospital - after stopping Wendy Thomas' car at the UK border controls at the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, France on October 9 2016.

The 50-year-old, of Horle Close, Cardiff, South Wales, who pleaded guilty to one count of assisting illegal immigration, was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison at Blackfriars Crown Court on Thursday.

Wendy Thomas was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison (Home Office/PA)
Wendy Thomas was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison (Home Office/PA)

Releasing the details of the case on Monday, the Home Office said Thomas' co-conspirators Adriano Bettoja-Allen, 37, and his wife Jeanette, 49, were also sentenced for their parts in two separate "carefully planned" attempts to smuggle people into the UK.

Investigation into the case started after the arrest of Dawood Shahbeik, a British national, at St Pancras International station when he arrived on the Eurostar from Calais on October 2 2016.

Shahbeik's mobile phone was found to contain text messages referring to an individual who had been transported to a house in Newport, South Wales, and a search of his luggage revealed a damaged Iranian passport and a large amount of cash, a Home Office spokeswoman said.

Thomas' arrest happened a week after Shahbeik's and text messages on both their phones showed they had been in regular contact with Bettoja-Allen, of Park Square, Newport.

Adriano Bettoja-Allen was sentenced to five years in prison after admitting two counts of assisting illegal immigratio
Adriano Bettoja-Allen was sentenced to five years in prison after admitting two counts of assisting illegal immigration (Home Office/PA)

David Fairclough, assistant director from Immigration Enforcement's Criminal and Financial Investigation (CFI) team, said: "Adriano Bettoja-Allen was revealed by our investigations to be the common link between what initially appeared to be unconnected incidents.

"Our investigations showed that far from being opportunistic attempts to undermine the UK's border controls, the offences had been carefully planned.

"The fact that two women ended up in hospital demonstrates the dangerous lengths people smugglers will go to."

The two women were found inside a large black holdall filling the boot of Thomas' car and covered by pillows and a large soft toy.

The third passenger, a man who later claimed to be an Iranian national and was handed to the French authorities to be removed from the UK control zone, was found hiding underneath two cushions and a quilt spread across the car covering the rear foot wells.

A man was found hiding underneath two cushions and a quilt spread across the car's rear foot wells (Home Office/PA)

The CFI team discovered Bettoja-Allen and his wife had travelled through Calais on October 2 having earlier met up with Shahbeik in Dunkirk and that Thomas and Bettoja-Allen had travelled in separate vehicles from Folkestone to Coquelles on the same Eurotunnel train on October 8.

Bettoja-Allen returned to the UK alone the next day less than two hours after Thomas had been stopped by Border Force.

Financial checks also uncovered a large cash deposit into Thomas' bank account in September 2016.

Jeanette Bettoja-Allen, 49, of Park Square, Newport, from the Philippines, was linked to the Calais incident and was sentenced to 11 months, suspended for two years, 150 hours unpaid work, and a curfew after pleading guilty to assisting illegal immigration three days into her trial, the Home Office said.

Her husband was sentenced to five years in prison after admitting two counts of assisting illegal immigration.

Shahbeik was dealt with at an earlier hearing and was sentenced to 18 months in prison after admitting one count of assisting illegal immigration.

Mr Fairclough said the case was a warning for anyone tempted to get involved in people-smuggling.

"We work closely with Border Force colleagues to rigorously investigate allegations of immigration-related criminality," he said.

"We will catch you, and put you before the courts."

Anyone with information about suspected immigration abuse can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

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