Wardrobe horror: Indian-origin men jailed for smuggling Afghans into UK

The victims included a 2-year-old child and an individual with physical disabilities

By Prasun Sonwalkar

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Published: Wed 11 May 2022, 12:45 PM

Five men, including four of Indian origin, who smuggled 35 Afghans into the UK by screwing them into purpose-built hides made from wardrobes and surrounded by furniture items in the rear of vans, have been jailed for a total of 24 months and two months.

The victims included a 2-year-old child and an individual with physical disabilities, the Home Office said, following a trial at the Reading Crown Court.

The court was told that between August and October 2019, Paramjeet Singh Baweja, 50, and Viljit Singh Khurana, 45, organised the smuggling through six separate events. The vans with the victims were driven through Europe to southern UK ports, including Dover and Portsmouth.

The coffin-like hides, from which the migrants had no way of escaping without the assistance of the criminals, were used to conceal up to seven people each journey. Many were only discovered after they had endured travel from Belgium and France, through the ports and across the Channel.

One group was discovered while shouting for their lives at the point of being loaded onto a recovery vehicle.

Following a two-year investigation, Baweja and Khurana pleaded guilty to the purchasing of vans and furniture, communicating between the ‘minders’, the migrants and Romanian drivers and paying money to the ‘minders’. Baweja was sentenced to six years and nine months’ imprisonment. Khurana received a six-year sentence.

The ‘minders’ were found to be Harmohan Singh, 41, and Manmohan Singh Wadhwa, 57. Both admitted to escorting the vans and drivers during the facilitation events and providing progress updates to other members of the crime group and drivers.

Both Singh and Wadhwa were sentenced to three years and four months in jail. Forensic evidence indicated that Harmohan Singh was also involved in the screwing of the migrants into the hides in the wardrobes.

The fifth individual sentenced was Dumitru Bacelan, 29, a Romanian national, believed to be of higher ‘rank’ than the minders and drivers. Bacelan pleaded guilty to his part of the recruitment and the organising of drivers. This included booking hotels and travel around the UK and Europe with other gang members.

He has been sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment for immigration offences, and 12 months for fraud offences to run concurrently.

Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, Tom Pursglove MP 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 for their efforts working round the clock to prevent this illegal activity which puts people’s lives in extreme danger”.

The Home Office said that since 2020, its Criminal Financial Investigations unit has secured over 140 convictions relating to people smuggling cases involving vehicles such as vans, lorries, cars and yachts, as well as 49 small boats-related prosecutions. This equates to a combined total of nearly 400 years in prosecutions since 2020.

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