Author: AMIE GORDON FOR MAILONLINE
A serving soldier whose life went ‘into a downward spiral’ when he witnessed his best friend being blown up in Afghanistan has been jailed for three years for smuggling migrants from the Calais Jungle into the UK in his car boot.
Kyle Harris was serving as a Lance Corporal in Germany when he agreed to bring ‘one every Friday’ into the UK through the Channel Tunnel while on weekend leave from his barracks.
The 30-year-old, who served two tours of duty Afghanistan’s Helmand Province during his six-year army career, smuggled two migrants at a time, making them lie head to toe on top of each other and hiding them beneath his camouflage jacket and Army kit.
Harris was paid £5,000 per stowaway and involved in five planned smuggling trips over a five-week period, three of which were successful, a court heard today.
The court heard how Harris’ life spiralled out of control during his second tour of Afghanistan when he witnessed his best friend, Private Tom Lake, being killed by an improvised explosive device which left three others severely injured in November 2011.
He became withdrawn and was said by one officer to be ‘fighting demons’. Harris never came to terms with his friend’s death and turned to drink, drugs and online gambling, mounting up a debt of £30,000, the court was told.
His desperate money making ploy was eventually foiled when Border Force officers stopped Harris in a random check at Coquelles on May 6, 2016.
He was driving a German-registered Hyundai and initially claimed to be driving alone. He told officials he was a serving soldier and produced his army identification card.
Harris, who was stationed with 1st Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment at Barker Barracks in Paderborn, said he was on his way to spend a couple of days visiting his mother in Epsom, Surrey.
But Maidstone Crown Court in Kent heard he began to show signs of ‘considerable anxiety’ as he was asked standard questions by immigration officials.
The soldier, who served two tours of duty Afghanistan’s Helmand Province during his six-year army career, was nervous and sweating.
He was also described by one officer as ‘wide-eyed and scared’.
When asked to open the rear of the vehicle he confessed to having human cargo, stating: ‘Ok, I’m going to have to own up to this. There’s two people in the back.’
The Iraqi and Syrian nationals, both men and in their 20s, were discovered in the cramped boot of the hire car. They were later handed over to the French authorities.
When he was arrested, Harris told officers it was a one-off trip triggered by his alcohol problems as well as drug and gambling addictions.
He told them, ‘I am desperate for money’, and was handed a suspended sentence.
But a Home Office investigation revealed the two migrants were not the first to have been picked up by the lance corporal from a McDonald’s close to the Jungle encampment.
Once through the Channel Tunnel, they would be dropped off at pre-arranged meeting points throughout the UK.
Harris, from Epsom, Surrey, admitted conspiracy to assist in the unlawful immigration to a member state, and possessing criminal property.
He has since been discharged from the Army and is now manager of a pub and restaurant.
Passing sentence, Judge Adele Williams said it was a ‘personal tragedy’ that Harris became embroiled in the conspiracy, having been recruited by others.
She told Harris as he wiped tears from his face: ‘I take into account all that has been said on your behalf, your previous good character and particular account of the fact you have served your country in the armed forces.
‘You suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of your service, witnessing the death of your best friend and other atrocities, which sent you into a downward spiral and led to gambling and therefore debt.’
But she said the ‘mischief’ in the offence was the evasion of border controls.
This crime undermines the integrity of the UK border and it exploits the desperation of those who wish to enter.’
The court heard Harris served with frontline infantry and was highly regarded by his superior officers for his ‘courage, discipline, and selfless commitment’.
Defending, Isabelle Gillard, told the court his life went into a downward spiral during his second tour of Afghanistan when he witnessed his best friend, Private Tom Lake, killed by an improvised explosive device and three others severely injured in November 2011.
He became withdrawn and was said by one officer to be ‘fighting demons’.
Miss Gillard said Harris never came to terms with his friend’s death and turned to drink, drugs and online gambling, mounting up a debt of £30,000.
She said: ‘It is clear events that day in Helmand led directly into a downward spiral and to him committing these offences. He talks about the guilt he felt about that day, still a very young man in his early 20s.’
Organising the operation was Middlesbrough-based carwash owner Zinden Ahmed, who promised the soldier ‘lots of people every time when ready’.
At one stage Harris even suggested he could ask a friend to drive a second car so as many as four could be brought to the UK in one go.
Ahmed also had a contact based in France who arranged the pick-ups from McDonald’s.
The court was told Hadi Hassan, himself an asylum seeker, assisted in three smuggling trips while acting as an ‘unofficial volunteer’ for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Ahmed and 35-year-old Hassan, from Manchester, admitted the same charge and were jailed for six years eight months and two years eight months respectively.
Ahmed, 36, was jailed for a further three years and four months for possessing cocaine with intent to supply, making a total of 10 years.
The high purity drug was found in a dustbin when immigration officers arrested him at his home in January 2017.
Sentencing all three, Judge Williams said while the conspiracy had ‘some humanitarian and loyalty’ motives, it developed into a commercial operation.
The court was told that Ahmed first contacted Harris in March 2016 with a text saying ‘Hello mate, somebody my friend give me your number. You did bring his brother so can you bring my brother as well if you can.’
Harris agreed, asking for £2,500 in advance and ‘the rest when it’s done’. Three weeks later Harris had smuggled in the Kurdish national’s younger brother in his Ford Mondeo.
After another migrant was smuggled in by Harris and dropped off of at a Tesco supermarket in Banbury, Oxfordshire, in April 2016, he sent Ahmed a text message asking ‘Do you still have lots more?’
The married father-of-two, who arrived in the UK hidden inside a lorry in 2004 and was granted asylum, replied: ‘Yeah, don’t worry, one every week’.
Harris responded ‘Excellent. Happy doing business with you.’
He was paid half the money in advance by Ahmed, and then the remaining amount on delivery of the migrant, making a total of £20,000.
As well as the Tesco car park, other rendezvous points for handovers included the village of Yaxley near Peterborough, and an Asda car park in Nottingham.
Prosecutor Walton Hornsby said payments to Hassan by Ahmed were ‘limited’ in comparison to the money paid to Harris who earnt ‘a significant amount of money’.
He added: ‘The prosecution case is that although there may have been some humanitarian aspect, this was a commercial operation.
‘The individuals concerned were clearly desperate to come into this country and prepared to pay large sums of money to people who could enable them to come to this country.
‘Had Zinden Ahmed’s involvement been simply trying to bring his brother into this country as a genuine asylum seeker for humanitarian reasons, there would not have been a prosecution. That is not the policy of the Home Office.
‘What this is about is the exploitation of large migrants in this position.’