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Two Northern Ireland truckers were key players in people trafficking gang, trial hears

By Dominic Harris

Published 26/05/2016

Co-accused: Stephen McLaughlin
Co-accused: Stephen McLaughlin
Co-accused: Martin McGlinchey

Two men from Northern Ireland have gone on trial in England for allegedly trafficking illegal immigrants inside a shipping container — one of whom died.

The Afghan asylum seeker was found dead at Tilbury Docks in Essex after more than 12 hours in the sealed container with 34 other illegal immigrants, a court has heard.

The Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were rescued on August 16, 2014, after port workers heard banging noises and cries for help.

The group, which included families, was found in a cramped space on top of plastic barrels full of liquid, with condensation pouring from the ceiling. Among them was Meet Singh Kapoor, a 40-year-old who died during the overnight crossing from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Basildon Crown Court was told the refugees, believed to have fled Kabul in Afghanistan after allegedly suffering persecution and living illegally in Belgium and France, were the “human cargo” of a “sophisticated international organisation” of people smugglers.

The pair, lorry drivers Stephen McLaughlin (36) and Martin McGlinchey (49), are accused of being in the gang’s “inner circle” and face charges of helping to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK.

Jurors were told the two men were part of a team responsible for arranging the transport logistics of the operation, allegedly organising for the container to be sent from Dover to France so it could be picked up by an innocent man before being loaded with illegal immigrants on a Belgian industrial estate.

Prosecuting, Michael Goodwin told the court the plan was foiled when port workers in Tilbury heard the screams of those in the container.

After the operation was sprung, he said, McLaughlin, from Limavady, Co Londonderry, and McGlinchey, of Coalisland, Co Tyrone, frantically tried to cover their tracks, destroying mobile phones and sim cards that might implicate them.

McGlinchey sold a car he thought could link him to two co-conspirators, Taha Sharif, and a man known only as ‘Kurd Eng’, while McLaughlin booked a short family holiday.

Mr Goodwin said the pair were motivated by financial gain, and that the “very considerable risks” involved meant they would have made a lot of money if the plan had been successful.

The two men are facing a retrial, and deny conspiring to facilitate illegal entry into the UK between June 1 and September 5, 2014.

At the previous trial last year Sharif, a Kurd, was found guilty of the same charge while Timothy Murphy, who drove the container through Belgium and France, was found to be an “innocent dupe” and was acquitted. Kurd Eng remains at large.

Defending McLaughlin, Mark Harries said there was a “legitimate explanation” for his phone calls and that he was never in contact with Kurd Eng or Sharif, that ‘cell-site’ evidence is “vague and ambitious” and does not support suggestions he was at meetings with the other alleged conspirators, and that his business dealings accounted for his movements.

Representing McGlinchey, Anu Mohindru said his client disputed very little of the prosecution’s case, but said he was smuggling alcohol, rather than asylum seekers.

He told the court: “Any people-smuggling was done without his knowledge. In his mind it was alcohol, not people.”

The case continues.

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