Belfast Telegraph

Tilbury Docks people smuggling trial: 'Stress of journey' blamed for migrant's death, court hears

Lorry driver accused was caught trying to transport illegal immigrants into the UK 11 days before a man was found dead inside a shipping container, a court has heard

By Ben Kendall

A man found dead inside a shipping container as a people-smuggling gang attempted to sneak immigrants into the UK may have been killed by the stress of the journey, a court has heard.

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 prosecutor Michael Goodwin told jurors that a forensic examination and post-mortem revealed Mr Singh Kapoor died from an attack brought about by the irregular beating of his heart.

He described how the immigrants had been found distressed and struggling to breathe in cramped and damp conditions with just four foot of head space.

"The pathologist concluded the stress of being held in such conditions could have caused such an irregularity of the heart," Mr Goodwin added.

Mr Goodwin said investigators had found the container loaded with barrels of a "water-based liquid" to give the "appearance of a legitimate load" of alcohol.

Some had been opened, suggesting those inside had attempted to drink the liquid. However, there was no evidence this could have contributed to Mr Singh Kapoor's death.

Defendant Timothy Murphy had driven the lorry out through Dover on August 14 and there was no evidence it was carrying a legitimate cargo at this point.

Mr Goodwin said: "Why were they transporting barrels filled with water with all the costs involved?

"This was a carousel journey. The only use of this container was to commit this offence.

"There was no legitimate use. It travelled out and back in one loop."

The Afghans had been asked to meet in Lokeren, a small city in Flanders, before being driven around to disorientate them then loaded on to the container and transported to Zeebrugge.

This area was particularly quiet that day as it was a Belgian Bank Holiday, Mr Goodwin said.

Inside the container there was about four foot of space above the barrels which the immigrants were forced to hide in. Mr Goodwin said condensation was dripping from the roof.

Earlier, Mr Goodwin outlined how 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: "This was not a case of an energetic migrant chasing after and jumping on board in an attempt to smuggle their way on board.

"There were 12 people inside that locker - they did not end up there by chance."

Mr Goodwin said lorry drivers have a responsibility to check their vehicles for people attempting to smuggle themselves on board but officials have the discretion not to issue a fine under civil procedures if they believe the driver is an innocent party.

He added that as Murphy drove the lorry to Coquelles he was in regular contact with fellow defendants Stephen McLaughlin and Martin McGlinchey. McLaughlin was responsible for making the booking for the planned crossing.

On that occasion, the immigrants were found when UK border officials selected the vehicle for a "heart-beat" check which uses specialist equipment to identify any individuals hidden on board.

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 second group were Afghan Sikh migrants, whose ages ranged from 16 months to 72 years old. Many were fleeing persecution in their homeland and are now claiming asylum in the UK.

The trial is expected to last until mid-July.

Further reading:

Tilbury Docks: Ulster trio deny part in fatal people smuggling operation 

Migrants-case driver caught earlier 

Tilbury Docks people smuggling trial: Northern Ireland lorry drivers 'treated Afghan migrants as freight', court hears

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