Last week Thames Valley Police carried out a number of operations at service stations across the Force.
The operations carried out with Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, and Hampshire Constabulary, were aimed at raising awareness to HGV drivers about people smuggling and how lorries being driven from ports into the UK may be targeted by organised criminals looking to smuggle people into the UK.
Operations were carried out at Newport Pagnell, Chieveley, Waterstock, Beaconsfield and Reading services.
Overall throughout the days officers engaged with 275 hauliers. Of that number, 225 of the lorries were searched, and 50 others were given advice on the dangers of smuggling people and the consequences for hauliers if people are found in the back of their lorries.
Luckily no one was found in the back of any of the Lorries, however officers did encounter 22 lorries with outstanding clandestine fines for previously being found with people on the lorry following a border crossing.
As a result £96,190 was paid in fines to Border Force. In two cases Lorries were seized on behalf of Border Force.
A further £100,000 in clandestine fines were also recovered following an operation that ran through February.
Detective Inspector Steve Jones, of the Thames Valley Police Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “People being smuggled into the UK is illegal and those who are facilitating the smuggling or trafficking of people into the UK are from Organised Crime Groups and make significant profits from it.
“Last week we engaged with hauliers and members of the public to increase awareness of this type of crime and advise how people travelling across the border may access lorries or cars in order to get across the border. We have also been advising them of some of the checks they can make on their vehicles, or what to do if they see people approaching trailers or vehicles, or even if smugglers have approached them.
“Working with Hampshire Constabulary, Border Force and other agencies we have achieved significant results. Thankfully no one was found in any of the lorries we searched, however at total of £111,390 was recovered in fines following this operation through payment or seizure of HGVs.
“People may ask why Thames Valley Police is involved and why we are engaging with hauliers in these areas. Sometimes like other areas across the country, the service stations in our area can be a first stop off, after a channel crossing, so this might be a place where those who have been smuggled try to exit a lorry or vehicle.
“So we feel this an appropriate place to remind hauliers and the public of the dangers around people smuggling.
“It is important to remind people that those who are smuggled are then often forced into modern slavery, prostitution and other crime, having been been promised a better life in the UK and forced to pay vast amounts of cash to get here.
“The risk of serious injury or death of being smuggled in the back of a lorry or a small boat is significant.
“There are also serious penalties for those caught helping to smuggle people into the UK in the back of lorries. They could be arrested and investigated and their employer could face substantial fines for not having appropriate security in place for their fleet.
“We would advise anyone who thinks that there may be people trapped in a lorry or vehicle to report it to police immediately to 999 as a life could be put at risk.
“Equally if you think someone you know is involved in such activity, or if you’ve been approached by someone to smuggle people then please do report it as it could save someone’s life and bring the organised gangs who are ruthlessly exploiting often vulnerable people to justice.
“If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the police you can report 100% anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
“There is more information on people smuggling on the Crimestoppers website.”
“We will continue to work with our partners at UK Border Force, the National Crime Agency as well as other partners in order to bring offenders to justice and reduce the risk to those being exploited by this illegal and highly dangerous activity.”
Monday 1st – Newport Pagnell – 60 lorries searched – 6 companies had clandestine fines outstanding – £11,400 recovered in payment and the last lorry was towed with a £5200 on it
Tuesday 2nd – Chieveley Services – 35 lorries searched – 4 companies had clandestine fines outstanding – £33,100 recovered in payment
Wednesday 3rd – Waterstock Services – 40 lorries searched – 3 companies had clandestine fines outstanding – £9890 recovered in payment
Thursday 4th – Beaconsfield Services – 40 lorries searched – 5 companies had clandestine fines outstanding – £19,500 recovered in payment – last lorry was towed with a £10,000 on it
Friday 5th – Reading Services – 50 lorries searched – 4 companies had clandestine fines outstanding – £22,300 recovered in payment
Across the week at least 225 lorries were physically searched and on top of this about another 50 lorries were stopped and the drivers just spoken to
In total we recovered £96,190
2 lorries were seized on behalf of Border Force as they refused to pay their fines at the time of the operation and this totals another £15,200
Total enforced for the week £111,390