A lorry driver has been jailed for nine years for smuggling migrants into the UK in the back of his refrigerated truck carrying spinach.
Romanian national Marinel Danut Palage was a key member of an organised crime group convicted of bringing migrants illegally into the country.
The 31-year-old, who lives in Spain, would meet the migrants in northern France before taking them in the back of his lorry on a ferry from Caen to Portsmouth.
Bournemouth Crown Court heard that the operation was carried out at least three times bringing about 10 to 12 people illegally into the UK.
Palage and the four others were arrested in March 2019 on the third trip by officers following a four-year investigation by the National Crime Agency.
During a search of his cab, plastic bags containing £34,500 in cash, with further bundles of euros and sterling to the value of about £7,000, were discovered hidden behind a tachograph panel.
Sentencing Palage, Judge William Mousley KC told him: “You performed the essential function of driving the immigrants across the border in your lorry.
“You expected, and received, large sums of money for your involvement.”
The judge added that Palage had shown no remorse as he had gone on to carry out similar offences in Germany and had to be extradited to stand trial in the UK.
He ordered that Palage’s vehicle and the money found to be seized.
Father-of-three Pshtewan Ghafour, 37, from Middlesbrough, was jailed for five years for his role in the organisation which included ensuring the group members were paid.
NCA branch commander Richard Harrison said: “This people smuggling group were content to put vulnerable migrants, including children, in the back of refrigerated lorries for hours on end during dangerous Channel crossings” .
“It is clear from the evidence we found that their sole reason was for profit, without any regard to the migrants’ safety.”
A NCA spokesman said that Palage and Ghafour were arrested following a surveillance operation on March 11 2019 and Palage’s lorry was found to be carrying at least three people on that occasion.
The ringleader Goran Jalal, 37, from Bradford, remains wanted by the NCA having absconded following his arrest.
Kamaran Kader, 44, also from Bradford; Mariwan Mustafa, 33, from Halifax; and Manchester duo Jamal Saied, 38; and 37-year-old Hemin Salih, who has also absconded, will be sentenced separately for their part in the network.