A TRUCK driver who smuggled 21 Vietnamese adults and children into Britain inside “the modern equivalent of a slave ship” has been jailed.
Andrut Mihai Duma, 29, brought children as young as 12 hidden in two 49cm-tall “coffin hides” inside the trailer of a refrigerated lorry.
Border Force officers at Newhaven found ten people in one cramped hide and 11 in another, including “six to eight” children.
Duma, a Romanian national of Milton Place, Salford, Greater Manchester, was jailed for six years at Guildford Crown Court yesterday, the day his trial was due to start, after he pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration.
Jailing Duma, Judge Rufus Taylor said: “It was a refrigerated trailer with no fresh air. These people were literally in the modern equivalent of a slave ship.”
He told Duma the makeshift hides were “quite obviously extremely dangerous” and said he would recommend his deportation.
Prosecuting, Nicholas Corsellis QC said the hides were built into a trailer carrying bottled water supposedly destined for a business in north London. Each was “highly dangerous in its construction and exposed them (the migrants) to significant danger of collapse”.
Mr Corsellis said: “It’s for that reason that such a method of construction is known as a ‘coffin hide’.”
He described the operation as “no amateur effort at people trafficking” and the work of an organised crime gang.
“There must have been significant sums of money either paid or due to the smugglers” by the migrants, he said.
Officials stopped Duma at the border on November 1 and he said he had collected the trailer near Dieppe, France. They initially noticed nothing suspicious until an officer shone a torch between the water pallets.
They found migrants crammed “top to toe” in boxes which were four metres long, one metre wide and 49cm high.
One Vietnamese person who spoke some English told officers they had spent seven hours inside.
Mr Corsellis said: “There would have been no ability to escape from the hide if it had been damaged in transit and further no escape from the trailer because of the way the load was stacked and the doors secured.”
The lorry was fitted with a counterfeit registration plate, its tachograph had been tampered with and other identification numbers on the vehicle were also altered.
Ahmed Hossain, representing, said Duma had no part in the “precarious construction” of the hides and was “a cog in this operation”. “His role is limited, he had limited financial reward,” he said.
Duma listened to the hearing with help from a Romanian interpreter.
Judge Taylor told him: “Your continued presence in the UK is no longer conducive to the public good and therefore I recommend you are deported.”