Group of men who smuggled 35 Afghan people into the UK through ports including Portsmouth using 'horrific' methods jailed for a total of 24 years

A GROUP of five men who smuggled 35 Afghan people into the UK in purpose built wardrobe ‘hides’ inside vans through ports including Portsmouth, have been jailed for a total of 24 years and two months.

Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 11:39 am

Following a trial at Reading Crown Court the court heard that between August and October 2019, Paramjeet Singh Baweja, 50, and Viljit Singh Khurana, 45, organised the smuggling of 35 migrants into the country through six separate events.

Individuals were screwed into purpose-built hides made from wardrobes, which were surrounded by furniture items in the rear of the vans. The vans were driven through Europe to Southern UK ports, including Portsmouth and Dover.

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Left to right: Manmohan Singh Wadhwa, Harmohan Singh, Viljit Singh Khurana, Paramjeet Singh Baweja and Dumitru Bacelan.

The coffin-like hides, from which the migrants had no way of escaping without the assistance of the organised crime group, 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 were discovered while shouting for their lives at the point of being loaded onto a recovery vehicle.

 Following a two-year investigation by Home Office, 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.

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.

Footage of the five men who smuggled 35 people to the UK

‘I would like to praise the officers on the case in their efforts working round the clock to prevent this illegal activity which put people’s lives in extreme danger.

‘The Nationality and Borders Act will support our criminal investigations teams by making it easier to prosecute people smugglers and introducing a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for those who facilitate illegal entry into our country.’

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 years in jail.

Forensic evidence indicated that Harmohan Singh was also involved in the screwing of the migrants into the hides in the wardrobes.

The final 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 also pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation in relation to an EUSS application he submitted to the Home Office. He has been sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment for immigration offences, and 12 months for fraud offences to run concurrently.