Agent denies people-smuggling
A man accused of being part of a people smuggling gang which transported a container in which an immigrant died has said he had "no idea" what cargo was inside.
Four men are standing trial at Basildon Crown Court after denying organising the operation which was detected when 35 Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were found inside the container at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on August 16. Among them was Meet Singh Kapoor, 40, who had died in the overnight crossing from Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Today Stephen McLaughlin told the court he had acted only as a "shipping agent" making the booking for the container.
Earlier fellow defendant Martin McGlinchey, who took the container to Dover before it was transported abroad, said he had not known the container was to be used to carry a human cargo - instead believing it would be used to carry vodka.
This immigrants were found hidden amongst barrels containing a water-like substance, which may have been intended to look like alcohol, the court has heard.
McLaughlin said he had no idea the container might be used in a "booze cruise" carrying 21 tonnes of vodka or that it may be involved in a people smuggling operation.
He said he knew McGlinchey had been involved in alcohol smuggling but was "not that interested" because it was commonplace in the haulage industry.
He added: "I just booked the container. I didn't ask what it was for - nobody asks what's being carried.
"The shipping agent never asks that question.
"People just don't phone me up and tell me every wee detail of what they're doing - they just use my account to do bookings."
McLaughlin admitted he knew there was "huge bucks" to be made from people smuggling, but said this was common knowledge.
Asked by prosecutor Michael Goodwin if he had discussed people smuggling with McGlinchey, he said: "Absolutely not."
Earlier in the trial Mr Goodwin outlined claims the defendants had been involved in at least two attempts to smuggle people into UK, taking "significant risks" to make "substantial financial gains" as part of an organised crime syndicate.
Driver Timothy Murphy had been fined £5,000 after UK officials found 12 Afghans in a locker inside a lorry transporting frozen chips as he attempted to re-enter the UK through Coquelles, France, on August 5.
He added that as Murphy drove the lorry to Coquelles he was in regular contact with fellow defendants McLaughlin and McGlinchey.
Many of the second group of migrants found at Tilbury, whose ages ranged from 16 months to 72 years old, had fled persecution in their homeland before linking up in Europe.
Mr Goodwin said this attempt was uncovered when dock workers heard noises inside the container. When they opened it, they found the people inside distressed and struggling to breathe.
In the days leading up to this incident there had been similar regular contact between the accused.
McLaughlin, 34, of Limavady, Londonderry; Murphy, 33, of Elmgrove, Londonderry; McGlinchey, 47, of Derryloughan Road, Coalisland, County Tyrone; and Taha Sharif, 38, who is Kurdish and lived in Tottenham, London, at the time, have all pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.
The case continues.