Driver locked up after 15 migrants found in lorry at M25 junction
A lorry driver caught at a Surrey junction of the M25 trying to smuggle 15 migrants out of the UK and into France has been locked up.
Hakan Zengin, 36, from Cigli in Turkey, was detained after his vehicle was stopped by the National Crime Agency and police at the Wisley interchange, M25’s junction with the A3, on Sunday, March 21.
The authorities were alerted after passers-by saw him standing at the back of the lorry as people climbed in.
The migrants, including Moroccan, Algerian and Pakistani nationals, were found concealed in the lorry’s trailer, sitting on pallets that had been laid across the load to accommodate them. After being caught in the act Zengin now faces two and a half years in prison.
Zengin will be deported after serving half of the sentence in the UK.
He had pleaded guilty on May 7 to one count of assisting unlawful immigration.
Prosecutor Robert Harding said: “On March 21, the defendant was driving a lorry registered in Turkey. A number of individuals were seen approaching the lorry and a number of persons seen climbing into the rear.
“The defendant was outside of the lorry at the rear when those persons climbed in. Police were subsequently alerted and stopped the vehicle on the M25 where it joins the A3. A number of illegal immigrants were found in the lorry, 15 in total.”
Judge John Lodge said: “There were 15 people – they all explained how they had come to be in the UK and they all explained that they didn’t want to stay here any longer.”
The prosecutor added: “The lorry was searched and mobile phones, a laptop and some paperwork were found. It would appear that the lorry was on its way out of the country.”
It was said Zengin had worked for an international transport company based in Turkey for around a year before the incident. Osman Osman, defending, said Zengin was “genuinely remorseful” and had “given in to temptation” after hearing he could make money from taking migrants out of the UK.
He said: “He was indebted to a significant sum in Turkey. He has a young family – a son of 11 years of age and a daughter of six years of age. He is estranged from his wife and cares for the children when he can as well as his own family and over time became significantly indebted.
“It was explained to him by a friend that he could earn some easy money if he ever wished by phoning a number with a view to picking up individuals to take across the channel. On previous occasions he resisted the temptation but temptation got the better of him.”
He told the court Zengin made a call and was asked to pick up the immigrants on his way back from Ireland to France. The judge heard the lorry has a “plastic curtain side” and a door into the back of the lorry was left unlocked so that those inside could get out if they needed to.”
Mr Osman said: “Mr Zengin appreciates there have been some tragic events reported in the newspapers and come through the courts. Thankfully the 15 that boarded the lorry were not in any danger of suffocation.
“If it was required they could leave the lorry. It would appear the door of the lorry was unlocked. He was not involved in planning, his only involvement was to collect individuals.”
He added Zengin may face legal action in Turkey and from his former employer, as the lorry spent months in police custody. Judge Lodge said: “I accept that you were not the organiser, I accept that your financial gain was limited.”
Zengin faces ‘life-changing jail sentence’
The stop was of part of a wider NCA investigation into a UK-based network suspected of smuggling migrants into and out of the UK using HGVs, codenamed Operation Symbolry.
NCA branch operations manager Chris Hill said: “People smuggling crime groups need corrupt HGV drivers like Zengin to operate.
“They think nothing of packing people into lorry trailers, or putting them into other extremely dangerous situations.”
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He added: “While his motivation for doing this may have been money, Zengin has found out the hard way that working with these crime groups does not pay, and he faces a life-changing jail sentence far away from home.
“I hope this conviction and sentencing sends out a message to others who would consider getting involved. It simply isn’t worth it.
“Working with our partners in the UK and overseas we are determined to do all we can to disrupt people smugglers and put corrupt drivers like Zengin behind bars.”
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