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Shipping agent: I'd no idea container's cargo to be people

By Ben Kendall

Published 01/07/2015

Denial: Stephen McLaughlin
Denial: Stephen McLaughlin

A man from Co Londonderry accused of being part of an international people smuggling gang which transported a container in which an immigrant died has said he had "no idea" what cargo was inside.

However, a co-defendant said he thought the container had been full of vodka.

Four men - three of them from Northern Ireland - are standing trial at Basildon Crown Court after denying being behind the human trafficking operation.

It 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 died in the overnight crossing from Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Yesterday, Limavady man Stephen McLaughlin told the court he had acted only as a "shipping agent", making the booking for the container.

Earlier, his fellow defendant - Co Tyrone man 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.

He said he believed it would be used to carry vodka.

This immigrants were found hidden among 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.

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 the UK 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.

McLaughlin (34), of Limavady, Derry; Murphy (33), of Elmgrove, Derry; McGlinchey (47), of Derryloughan Road, Coalisland, Co 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 of people into the UK.

The case continues.

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