Lorry driver admits trying to smuggle 22 people through Harwich port

Inside the lorry in which 22 Afghan nationals were found at Harwich. Picture: HOME OFFICE

Inside the lorry in which 22 Afghan nationals were found at Harwich. Picture: HOME OFFICE - Credit: Archant

Border Force officers made the discovery when they stopped a lorry driven by 32-year-old Tomasz Cierniak on February 2, 2016, after it had arrived at the port on a ferry from the Hook of Holland.

Cierniak, a Polish national, told officers that he was carrying electronic goods. When the lorry’s rear doors were opened washing machines and tumble dryers were found stacked three high and four across.

Officers unloaded the lorry and 22 people, including five children, were found in a purposely created gap between the heavily loaded rear and the front of the trailer.

Cierniak, of no fixed UK address, was arrested on suspicion of facilitating a breach of the UK’s immigration laws and the investigation was passed to Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigations (CFI) Team.

During the investigation, it emerged that the lorry Cierniak was driving had been branded in the livery of a multi-national haulage company but that business confirmed to investigators that the vehicle had never been owned by them. Checks also showed that the company Cierniak was supposedly delivering the goods to has no dealings with the business he said he worked for.

At Chelmsford Crown Court on Monday, July 10, Cierniak admitted the offence. He will be sentenced on Thursday, 13 July at the same court.

Rebecca Webb, from the Immigration Enforcement CFI team, said: “The dangers of cramming this group into a small space behind a wall of heavy goods during a six hour ferry crossing are obvious, but Cierniak was content to put the lives of 22 desperate people at risk. People smuggling is a callous trade and those involved think nothing of treating human beings as commodities.”

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Following his initial arrest, Cierniak was bailed pending further investigation, but failed to report as required to Colchester Police Station. CFI officers obtained a European Arrest Warrant and on 23 May, 2017, Cierniak was arrested by police officers in Italy. He was extradited to the UK and remanded in custody.

Rebecca Webb added: “Cierniak thought he could evade justice, but we, along with our law enforcement partners in Europe, never stopped looking.

“As this case demonstrates, we work closely with Border Force and other criminal enforcement agencies both in the UK and abroad. Our net is wide and the message to anyone involved in immigration criminality is clear – we will catch you and bring you before the courts.”

Anyone with information about suspected immigration abuse can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously.