Essex murder probe: Criminal gangs will exploit border chaos after Brexit, charity warns

Evening Standard Incident 2 weeks ago

Criminal gangs facilitating people smuggling and trafficking will take advantage of “a lot of change” at the borders after Brexit, a refugee charity has warned. 

James Tullett, CEO of Ramfel, based in Essex and London, told the Standard that gangs are likely to exploit opportunities that arise from the change in regulations. 

His comments come after 39 people, including a teenager, were found dead in a lorry container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue, Grays.

Essex Police said the vehicle travelled from Bulgaria and entered the UK via Holyhead, Anglesey, on Saturday.

The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association has also said migrant smuggling gangs are a "massive issue" for lorry drivers, adding that drivers are targeted by the groups "week in, week out". 

In recent weeks, several drivers had been attacked and “woken in the early hours of the morning by gunshots", he claimed. 

Mr Tullett said the tragic news this morning was not “completely unexpected", adding the incident highlighted the "difficulty and danger" people go through in an attempt to seek asylum. 

“Especially with the news, with how they went through a different port than you would normally go through to get to get to Essex, it brings up all the problems that Brexit will also raise," he said. 

A forensic officer in the cabin of a lorry carrying a container in which 39 bodies were found. (PA)

“When there's - not necessarily chaos, but a lot of change - then criminal gangs are going to look at that and exploit the opportunities.”

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, added that smuggling is already a “massive issue.”

"Drivers are facing challenges from smugglers and from gangs continuously. They have to be very careful about where they park up, they have to be very careful about checking seals on their trailers to make sure nobody has broken in," he said. 

Police have said the identification of the bodies could take a long time. (Sky News)

"There's a set of rules laid out by the Home Office to ensure that hauliers and drivers are checking to make sure they haven't got any migrants on board. This has been a long term issue."

Migrant gangs are "very sophisticated" in how they go about accessing trailers, he explained.

"They'll cut holes through roofs, they'll pull doors back, they'll unbolt the doors and then re-bolt the doors."

He believes the lorry with 39 bodies on board could have travelled from Cherbourg, France to Rosslare, Ireland, to avoid stringent security checks in place on Calais-Dover crossings. 

The Road Haulage Association boss has said people smuggling is a 'massive issue'. (Sky News)

"If this is somebody trying to smuggle a significant number of people through then maybe Cherbourg has been picked because it's a little easier to get through," he said.

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, added the news was “depressingly predictable and avoidable.”

“If you deny people safe and regular travel routes to find safety, you are leaving them with no choice but to risk their lives on utterly perilous journeys and in the hands of criminal gangs," he said. 

“These gangs are a symptom of a much deeper problem – namely Governments’ failure to provide safety to those who desperately need it.  

 “As long as we think the answer to this tragedy is about building high walls and impenetrable borders, this will keep happening. 

“As we have done so many times before, we urge the Government to introduce safe and regular travel routes – such as, in the case of refugees, widening the definition of family members eligible to reunite under refugee family reunion rules. ”

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