Herefordshire car wash used as front for major people smuggling operation
Two people smugglers have been jailed after West Midlands Police found they brought migrants to the UK on light aircraft and in vans fitted with hidden compartments.
Sangar Khalid Mohammed ran a hand car wash near the Herefordshire beauty spot, Symonds Yat, but officers found it was a front for a major people smuggling operation.
Behind the scenes Mohammed was charging desperate people a small fortune – £12,000 per person – to bring them from the Continent.
He worked with Birmingham man Billy Hems, a light aircraft pilot, to drop migrants at remote UK airfields on under-the-radar dawn flights and sneak them into the country in secret ‘hides’ on board vans.
However, officers from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) worked with the regional Home Office Immigration Criminal & Financial Investigation team to gather vital intelligence and evidence which led to their downfall.
Mohammed, aged 32, was arrested from his Symonds Yat home on 17th October 2019 at the same time seven Kurdish migrants, including a child, were being transported under his remote orders to Ghent in Belgium.
They thought it was the start of a journey that would see them cross The Channel – but instead police were lying in wait to intercept the van after ROCU and immigration enforcement worked with the Belgian authorities to lay a trap.
Enquiries revealed Mohammed was working with Hems as part of a widespread smuggling conspiracy.
In September 2018 a van (pictured) owned by the 24-year-old was stopped by French Police in Dunkirk with three migrants on board.
The driver and passenger, both British nationals, were later jailed in France and a phone found in the van was linked to the car wash run by Mohammed.
And it was discovered Hems, from Rye Croft in Hollywood, regularly flew between the UK and Amiens, France, in 2018 on suspected smuggling trips to countryside air fields.
Flight data showed he landed at Church Farm airfield near Banbury on 8 September before taking off again for Birmingham Airport. Phone enquiries showed Mohammed had been near the A40 landing strip at the time.
Police arrested Hems at his home on 18th October 2019.
Three migrants were also recovered from a purpose-built hide in a van, part-owned by Mohammed, which was stopped by UK Border Force in France on 12th April 2019.
The driver – convicted and jailed in France – had been in phone contact with Mohammed during the journey.
Mohammed and Hems both admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, with Mohammed also admitting drugs supply, and at Worcester Crown Court on 5th November they were jailed for seven and a half years, and two and a half years respectively.
Detective Inspector Julie Woods from West Midlands ROCU said: “This was a great piece of joint working between ourselves, immigration and the Belgian Police to bring down an established people smuggling gang.
“Mohammed and Hems were making big money on the plight and desperation of migrants while we also believe some were being put to work as cheap labour at Mohammed’s hand car wash.”
Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, Tom Pursglove, said: “Both of these individuals showed a blatant disregard for the laws of the UK, for which they have all now rightly paid the price.
“We are determined to clamp down on despicable people smugglers that put profit before lives by organising dangerous and unnecessary journeys.
“This is why we are bringing legislation forward through the New Plan for Immigration to dismantle these people smuggling networks and save lives.”