Albanian man jailed for attempting to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK - Bedford

01/05/2014

A man from Bedford has today, Thursday, 01 May 2014, been jailed for 27 months for trying to smuggle 20 illegal immigrants into the UK.

A court heard that Albanian Agim Kolaj had been expecting just to collect his brother from the back of a lorry.  But at the last minute he received a call from the Mr Big behind the human trafficking operation who said he had to provide transport for another 19 Albanians who were also in the rear of the lorry.

St Albans Crown Court was told Kolaj, a 29-year-old married father from Queensbury Close in Bedford arranged for his friend to take a VW van to the rendezvous with the lorry which had collected the illegal immigrants in Belgium

Judge Steven Gullick hearing the case was told that the meeting place was in Hogg End Lane in Hemel Hempstead, Herts below a motorway bridge under the M1 on 10 December last year.

Kolaj was there with his own four by four vehicle and so was his friend with his van. On board the lorry was Kolaj's brother along with the other Albanians.  But also present and nearby were a group of plain clothed police officers in an unmarked car who were undergoing a driving course.

Prosecutor Jeremy Barton said the officers could see the rear doors of the lorry were open and two male figures clambering the cargo to get inside the van.  Inside the lorry more men could be seen and Mr Barton went on: "They were all Albanian nationals with no right of entry or residence in the Uk"

The court heard that at the scene police arrested Kolaj, but the friend he had recruited wasn't detained.  Officers believed his story that he had no idea what was going on and he understood the job involved just picking up goods.  But also arrested was the lorry's Czekoslovakian driver, 51-year-old Petr Trapl a married father of three.  He had been recruited by the people smugglers to take the illegal immigrants across the Channel on a ferry hidden in the rear of his lorry having collected them in Belgium.

The court was told the haulage company he worked for confirmed he had a legitimate consignment of sweets on board his lorry, but had no idea of his secret sideline for which he was being paid.

Matthew Kirk for Kolaj told the court  his client had lived in the Uk for 14 years and had married an EU national.  He said his brother had been living in Greece, but had arranged to come to the UK illegally.  He said the defendant had been expecting to collect just his brother, but at the last moment he was contacted by the organiser of the smuggling operation who said: "there were difficulties with the onward transportation."  Mr Kirk said: "If he didn't assist with providing a van, then his brother would remain on the lorry."

The court heard Kolaj was concerned because he knew it was a refrigerated lorry and as a result he organised transport to meet the lorry when it pulled up under the bridge.

Kolaj and Trapl pleaded guilty to a charge of assisting unlawful immigration to a member state.

Judge Gullick jailed Trapl for three years and Kolaj for 27 months.

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