A father-of-three has been jailed for three years after cramming three Vietnamese migrants into a tiny ‘airtight’ roof box on his car and attempting to smuggle them into the UK.
Robert Rooney, 35, stuffed two men and a teenage girl, 15, into the box on top of his Ford Focus in France on October 5, but was stopped by officers at the UK-controlled zone at the Channel Tunnel in Coquelles.
Harrowing pictures show the three in the space, which is not much bigger than a suitcase, during the incident which ‘could have had tragic consequences’.
The people smuggler, from Edmonton, north London, had told Border Force representatives he ‘just had camping stuff in there’, claiming he did not know where the keys to open it.
The first thing officers saw when they opened the box at a nearby garage shortly before 4pm was a ‘human arm’, Canterbury Crown Court in Kent heard.
The Irish-born HGV driver was arrested and when quizzed by police, told them: ‘I did know what I was doing, but I will be making no further comment.’
Prosecutor Bridget Todd said the box was ‘an airtight concealment’, adding that there was ‘no attempt to put any ventilation in the box. Should the box have become detached on the motorway, the result would have been catastrophic’.Boris under fire for planning emergency coronavirus talks in three days time
She added that Rooney had ‘clearly intended to gain financially’, with people smugglers often charging thousands per person to bring them into the UK.
It remains unknown if the migrants, who were served with deportation documents, were being brought into the UK to live or be exploited for work.
Rooney’s family wept as he was sentenced to three years in prison by judge Catherine Brown after admitting to facilitating illegal entry at an earlier hearing.
He had been ‘struggling financially with overdrafts and loans’, his defence barrister James Burke told the court.
Mr Burke added: ‘He succumbed to the temptation of a solution to these problems.’
During sentencing, Judge Brown told Rooney: ‘These were people who were strangers to you. It was a high-risk venture given the very cramped conditions. There would have been no ventilation for them.
‘If there had been a delay in crossing, this could very well have had tragic consequences. They may themselves have been at real risk of being further exploited.’
She added: ‘The actions of people like you facilitate this kind of people trafficking.’
After the sentencing, Border Force regional director Dan Scully said that ‘smuggling people into the UK in this way is incredibly dangerous’ and Rooney had ‘put the lives of the individuals at huge risk’.
He continued: ‘Crammed into a confined space inside the roof box must have been terrifying.
‘It is thanks to the vigilance of Border Force officers that they were discovered and that Rooney was caught.
‘Border Force officers will continue to work with law enforcement colleagues here and in France to ensure that smugglers face the full consequences of their crimes.’
Deputy director Dave Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation team, added: ‘He was prepared to turn a blind eye to the obvious risks as long as he was benefiting. He has rightly been handed a custodial sentence.
‘The message to the callous criminals engaged in immigration related criminality is clear – you will be caught and the consequences will be severe.’
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