A couple who smuggled Vietnamese migrants into the UK inside specially adapted sofas have been jailed.
Junior Toussaint and Andrene Paul, both from near Paris, were sentenced to almost ten years combined at Hove Crown Court on Friday after pleading guilty to assisting unlawful migration to the UK.
The pair had worked together as delivery drivers in France and used furniture to hide a Vietnamese woman and three children in the back of a hire van.
They had travelled from Dieppe to the UK's Newhaven Port in the early hours of 2 April this year.
Border Force officers became suspicious when they searched the van and saw movement from inside the sofas, which were buried underneath a mattress and other furniture.
Images taken at the time of the search show two migrants packed inside with no means of escape without assistance.
Others were hidden among other fixtures, including a chest of drawers. One migrant was found crushed underneath the couch.
Toussaint, 25, was given four years and six months in jail and Paul, 28, was locked up for five years and five months.
The defendants told officers they had no knowledge of the migrants’ presence in their van and had been driving it to help with furniture removal in London.
Fingerprint checks carried out by Border Force later proved Toussaint’s involvement in the smuggling attempt. He pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration.
Paul, who had also denied her involvement, was found to have made a series of suspicious visits to the UK earlier in the year.
She pleaded guilty when video evidence of her previous activity was shown in court.
What the authorities said
Speaking after the case, Chris Foster, Deputy Director of Criminal and Financial Investigations at the Home Office, said: "Criminals are going to increasingly extreme lengths to smuggle people across the UK border for profit due to our efforts to clamp down on them. This sentence today reflects the severity of their crimes.
“Our teams save lives by identifying and intervening in smuggling attempts like this one. I want to thank my officers who work tirelessly to investigate those responsible and ensure they face the full weight of the law.”
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Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick added: "This case is another shocking example of the sickening tactics used by criminals who will think nothing of trapping women and children in appalling conditions to illegally enter our country.
“We are working night and day to stay one step ahead of the smuggling gangs and ensure they are swiftly brought to justice.”
The current immigration policy
The government has introduced a number of measures in recent years to discourage asylum seekers from crossing the Channel, but as of yet, few have been successful.
The agreement with Rwanda has attracted the most controversy, under which individuals who have illegally crossed will be resettled in the African country.
No one has been deported so far and the policy has been held up in the courts despite the more than £100m deal being announced in April 2022.
Earlier this year, the prime minister announced that asylum seekers would be housed on barges and in converted barracks as opposed to the hotels.
The flagship barge, the Bibby Stockholm, only managed to house a handful of asylum seekers for a few days in August before Legionella bacteria was discovered on board and everyone was evacuated.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wants a new deal with the EU to control the flow of asylum seekers crossing the Channel.
His plan if elected PM would see the UK take a quota of asylum seekers in the EU under a "quid pro quo" deal if the bloc would take back asylum seekers who made the crossing in return.
Starmer said this would reverse the current situation where people smugglers decide who is coming into the UK and not the government.
The second part of the plan would seek to treat trafficking gangs like terrorists and to increase the presence of British police on the continent.