A Birmingham people-smuggling gang has been jailed for a combined 21 years after two separate busts by UK border forces uncovered several Albanians hidden in car boots near Calais.
Lee Anderson, 46, and passenger Jason Cowley, 44, were caught driving a vehicle with two men and a child concealed in its rear on 12 March 2015 at a UK Control Zone approaching the Eurostar.
Gillian Barker, 47, was stopped at the same Control Zone driving a car with two men hidden in the same fashion on 2 August 2015.
The trio were all arrested on the spot while their Albanian passengers were handed over to French authorities by UK officials.
"The Border Force detections were the crucial first step in bringing these offenders to justice," said regional director Paul Morgan.
Investigators connected the smugglers to three further gang members by using telephone and travel records.
Albanian nationals Illir Hani, 44, Eduart Karaj, 39, and Vullnet Karaj, 41, were all arrested on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.
Officers found that Eduart and Vullnet were following Anderson and Cowley in a separate car at the time of the first bust in order to make sure it got through safely. The car they used was the same one being driven by Barker when she was arrested in France.
"This was an organised crime group, motivated by money, that has been dismantled thanks to the dedication and expertise of Immigration Enforcement and Border Force officers," said Criminal and Financial Investigations director David Fairclough.
"As time passed Eduart Karaj, Vullnet Karaj and Hani may have believed that their offences had gone undetected, but my officers were digging deeper, gathering the evidence that would ultimately ensure that they too were held to account for their offences."
Eduart Karaj, Cowley, Anderson and Barker all entered guilty pleas at the beginning of their trial in August. Vullnet Karaj and Hani pleaded not guilty but were convicted. They have been sentenced as follows:
- Ilir Hani - 5 and a half years
- Vullnet Karaj - 5 years
- Eduart Karaj - 4 years
- Jason Cowley - 30 months
- Lee Anderson - 30 months
- Gillian Barker - 20 months
"Border Force officers are on the frontline keeping our borders safe and secure. We will continue to work with law enforcement colleagues to ensure that people smugglers and traffickers face the consequences of their crimes," said Morgan.
"This case sends a clear message. We are patient people and never stop looking for those involved in immigration crime," said Fairclough.