"this illegal activity which put people’s lives in extreme danger."
A gang who smuggled desperate migrants inside ‘coffin-like hides’ have been jailed for a combined total of more than 24 years.
Paramjeet Singh Baweja and Viljit Singh Khurana illegally transported 35 Afghan refugees into the UK.
This included children as young as two and a person with physical disabilities.
The migrants were concealed within purpose-built wooden hides that had been screwed into place.
The hides were fitted into vans that were driven through French, Belgian, and UK ports.
Some of the migrants were only discovered after they were heard shouting for help.
The hides were surrounded by furniture loaded into the back of the vans and were used to conceal up to seven people each journey.
The Home Office said one group of refugees were discovered “while shouting for their lives” at the point of being unloaded.
At Reading Crown Court, the gang were sentenced following a trial.
Paramjeet Singh Baweja and Viljit Singh Khurana pleaded guilty to charges relating to the purchase of the vans and coordinating between drivers and minders.
Baweja, aged 50, was jailed for six years and nine months.
Khurana, aged 45, was jailed for six years.
Harmohan Singh, aged 41, and Manmohan Singh Wadhwa, aged 57, were found to be the “minders” who escorted the vans and drivers.
Both were jailed for three years and four months.
Romanian national Dumitru Bacelan pleaded guilty to charges relating to the recruitment and organisation of drivers.
His role also included booking hotels and travel around the UK and Europe.
Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, said:
“These life-threatening attempts to smuggle people, including very young children, into the UK in the back of vehicles with room to barely move or breathe, is quite frankly, horrific.
“I would like to praise the officers on the case in their efforts working round the clock to prevent this illegal activity which put people’s lives in extreme danger.”
Ben Thomas, deputy director for Immigration Enforcement’s criminal financial investigations, said:
“Criminal gangs should be in no doubt of our determination to investigate, catch and pursue anyone attempting to bring people here unlawfully and in such atrocious conditions.
“The operation run by this criminal group put children and vulnerable people’s lives in danger for the sake of making a profit.
“I hope these sentencings send a powerful message that breaking the law and putting individuals’ lives at risk will not go unpunished.”