Polish lorry driver jailed after trying to smuggle more than 20 immigrants through Harwich Port

The Afghan nationals were kept behind piles of washing machines, the court heard. Picture: HOME OFFI

The Afghan nationals were kept behind piles of washing machines, the court heard. Picture: HOME OFFICE - Credit: Archant

A people smuggler who tried to travel through Harwich International Port with 22 illegal immigrants hidden behind washing machines has been handed a custodial sentence.

Inside the lorry where the immigrants were kept. Picture: HOME OFFICE

Inside the lorry where the immigrants were kept. Picture: HOME OFFICE - Credit: Archant

Tomasz Cierniak, 32, pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration aimed at a member state after his lorry was found concealing Afghan nationals, including four children – one just seven-years-old.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard earlier today that Cierniak, a Polish national, had travelled to the port from Holland on February 1 last year, planning to drop the immigrants off in return for £135.

In a statement read out in court, he said: “I was not the organiser. The organiser was the person I hired the lorry from. I was given instructions by them to drive it from Holland to the point of drop-off in the UK.

“I knew there were illegal immigrants in the lorry. I did not know how many there were. I did not take any part in loading. I did not see them being loaded onto the lorry.”

Tomasz Cierniak has been sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. Picture: HOME OFFICE

Tomasz Cierniak has been sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. Picture: HOME OFFICE - Credit: Archant

The prosecution also accepted the defendant was unaware he was transporting children, however, the court heard that Cierniak had travelled to the port a week before as part of a suspected rehearsal.

In mitigation, Ania Grudzinska said Cierniak had taken the job as a way of supporting his pregnant wife.

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She added: “He tells me he deeply regrets what he has done and if he could turn back the clock, he would.

“Now he is in a foreign country and after five years of struggling to conceive, his wife is pregnant. He is now in a position where he is helpless to support her.”

Sentencing, Judge Emma Peters, said: “There are many people in this sad and difficult world who want desperately to come into the UK.

“Those who play a part in exploiting that desperation should expect to be treated severely by a court.

“In the back you had 22 people on board. I can see from the photos taken that those people were in the most squalid of conditions.”

She added: “What a tragedy that you say you were doing it for money for your family, but the effect of that is that you’re going to miss the birth of your first child and birthdays thereafter.

“There are no winners in this sad and unfortunate case. The people who suffered most were the immigrants in the back of your lorry, and now your family will suffer too.”

Cierniak was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, and will serve up to half in custody.