Author: DAILY MAIL REPORTER
Two drug smugglers were caught red-handed at the Channel Tunnel thanks to an illegal immigrant who had sneaked on board their specially-adapted truck.
British Border Force officers stopped the lorry on the French side of the tunnel after hi-tech scanners detected a migrant hiding in an external locker on board – with the smugglers totally unaware he was there.
But when officers carried out the detailed search of the lorry – Border Force officers found cocaine and cannabis with a street value of £2.6m on board.
The wheels came off for Dutch national Antonius Hendriks, 50, who had used the cover of being a stock car racer in a bid to sneak the drugs into the UK.
Hendriks hadn’t raced at all in the UK in 2017 but told officials he and his assistant Rene Neuteboom, 35, were en route to a competition in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, when they were stopped at the Channel Tunnel on August 31 last year.
Inside the specially adapted truck they used to transport Hendriks’s race car were 40kgs of cocaine and 280kgs of cannabis hidden in the roof.
The National Crime Agency said officials’ attention first turned to the vehicle because an illegal immigrant had hidden in an external locker on the truck, unknown to Hendriks and Neuteboom.
It was stopped and taken to one side. But when Border Force officers scanned the vehicle they discovered 60 holdalls containing the class A and class B drugs in concealed roof compartments.
When asked what it was, Neuteboom, who owned and drove the truck, said: ‘It’s weed.’
The Dutchmen were arrested and Neuteboom declined to answer questions except one, which was: ‘Were you fully aware of what you were doing today?’ He answered, ‘Yes’.
NCA investigators proved the men had travelled to the UK at least 20 times and that Hendriks had not raced in the UK since 2016.
Self-employed car dealer Hendriks and Neuteboom both admitted importing class A and class B drugs at Canterbury Crown Court in Kent.
Hendriks was jailed on Wednesday for 10 years and 10 months, while Neuteboom was given a nine-year prison sentence.
NCA branch commander Matt Rivers said after the sentencing: ‘Couriers like Hendriks and Neuteboom provide a vital service to the organised criminal networks involved in drug trafficking.
‘These convictions are testament to the hard work of the NCA and our partners at Border Force.
‘We have jointly taken out a sizeable consignment of drugs that would have funded further serious and organised crime in the UK and beyond if the vehicle had not been stopped and scanned.’
Paul Morgan, director of Border Force South East and Europe, said: ‘This is another excellent example of Border Force officers preventing a substantial quantity of drugs, with an estimated street level value of around £2.6 million, from ending up on the streets of the UK, where they cause significant harm to both individuals and communities.
‘Working with our colleagues at the NCA we are determined to do all we can to stop drug traffickers. Those convicted of drug importation offences face considerable prison sentences.’
Border force officials use a number of security measures to catch illegal immigrants such as using monitor on a vehicle to detect heartbeats on board.
They also have roving patrols of security guards and carbon dioxide detectors – which can show raised levels of people breathing in lorries or other vehicles.
Haulier firms found carrying an illegal immigrant can face a £2,000 fine – but it is understood that as the pair of bungling drug smugglers were facing criminal charges relating to the drugs, they were not fined for the stowaway.
The migrant was handed over to French authorities by Border Force. His nationality is not known.
Charlie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover and Deal said on Wednesday: ‘This case underlines the need to invest in our borders – and have properly trained officers at the front line.
‘It is absolutely fundamental that we know who and what is coming into this country. That’s why people voted to take back control of our borders, and that’s exactly what we must do.’