Portsmouth soldier accused of being part of Channel people-smuggling ringÂ
A serving soldier from Portsmouth was part of a ring of smugglers trafficking illegal immigrants from the Calais Jungle into the UK, a court has heard.
David Plumstead, 24, who was based at Barker Barracks in Paderborn, Germany, allegedly tried to help a fellow soldier in the Princess of Wales Regiment transport two migrants through the Channel Tunnel for a fee of Â£5,000 each.
He is on trial at Maidstone Crown Court alongside car wash owner Zindan Ahmed, 36, of Brompton Street, Middlesbrough, who is accused of financing the transportation of several migrants including his brother.
They face a charge of conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration between November 1 2015 and July 1 2016.
Ahmed, who is in the dock with a Kurdish interpreter, and Plumstead allegedly conspired with Corporal Kyle Harris, 29, who brought three migrants into the UK between March and May 2016 on his trips home on leave.
The jury heard that Harris arranged with Ahmed to be paid Â£2,500 in advance and a further Â£2,500 once each of the migrants had been delivered to the UK.
He met them at a McDonald's restaurant in the town of Coquelles - just outside Calais and close to the entrance to the Channel Tunnel - where he loaded one or two migrants into the boot of his rental car, the court was told.
The court heard that on April 29 2016, Plumstead accompanied Harris in the car when they attempted to meet an unknown people smuggler at the McDonald's who was due to hand two migrants to Harris to take to the UK.
The meeting was unsuccessful and the two soldiers returned to the UK alone, and Plumstead denies knowing anything about the operation or helping Harris.
Prosecutor Walton Hornsby said: '˜David Plumstead's involvement in this conspiracy is a very minor one and did not involve the bringing of an illegal migrant into the UK.
'˜But in getting into the car and going to pick up a migrant he must have been an active participant with Kyle Harris on this particular trip.
'˜If that's correct than he played a minor but nonetheless significant part of this conspiracy.'
Plumstead's alleged involvement came to light following Harris's arrest in May 2016 when an Iraqi and a Syrian migrant were found in the back of his car by border officials.
The jury heard that Harris pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy in August and is awaiting sentence at the conclusion of the current trial.
Mr Hornsby said to the jury: '˜What is the significance of that plea of guilty in relation to the same conspiracy that you are considering in relation to Mr Ahmed and Mr Plumstead?
'˜It establishes that there was such a conspiracy and that will not be disputed in this case - but it does not help you as to who else was involved in that conspiracy.'
The court heard text messages between Harris and a mobile phone associated with Ahmed arranging meetings to drop off cash and also arranging the next collection of migrants, and also a message allegedly from Ahmed asking Harris to pick up his brother.
Ahmed says that while he did use that phone on occasions, he was not the only person using it and he was not the person who sent the text messages related to the people-smuggling operation.
Plumstead said he did not believe Harris's claims about people smuggling.
Mr Hornsby said: '˜Mr Plumstead accepts that Kyle Harris in the barracks in Paderborn had been boasting about bringing illegal migrants into the UK, but he said he didn't believe him - he was a fairly boastful guy.
'˜He says the only reason he got into the car back to the UK was because it was a fairly common arrangement amongst soldiers and often they would give each other lifts back to the UK, and he didn't get into the car as part of any agreement to help or assist Mr Harris.'
Plumstead and Ahmed are not believed to have know each other or ever communicated, the jury was told.
In his police interview, Plumstead said he had travelled with Harris twice from Germany to the UK and that Harris had dropped him off in his hometown ofÂ Portsmouth.
He said on April 29 2016 - the day Harris failed to pick up the two migrants - that they had stopped at McDonald's to use the toilet and get some food before travelling through the Channel Tunnel and that it had been Harris's idea to stop there.
Plumstead said Harris had been using his mobile phone on the journey from their barracks in Germany, but he denied calling or texting anyone on his behalf.
Mr Hornsby said: '˜Mr Plumstead denies arranging to meet anyone - his case is that he was simply along for the ride and he had no idea he was involved in this activity.'
The jury heard that there were several text messages between Harris and the phone number alleged to be Ahmed's arranging bank transfers into Harris's account.
Ahmed denies being the author of the messages, claiming they were written by a member of staff at his car wash using his mobile phone without his consent.
The jury are due to rise to consider their verdict next Tuesday.