21 arrested following year-long people smuggling probe

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Police made 21 arrests in a major operation involving 350 officers to tackle a gang suspected of smuggling hundreds of migrants into the UK in the back of lorries.

Raids took place on Teesside, in Hastings, Sussex, in London and the Northumbria Police force area following a year-long investigation which linked with police in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said it was one of the biggest operations it has carried out since it started five years ago.

Those smuggled into the country were mainly believed to be Iraqi-Kurds and used drivers recruited on Teesside and abroad, the NCA said.

Deputy director Tom Dowdall said: “We believe we have identified and disrupted a significant network which is suspected of smuggling hundreds of migrants into the UK and planned to carry on going.”

They were thought to be charging vulnerable people up to £10,000 each to get across the Channel from Northern Europe.

Officers arrested a 42-year-old from a terraced house in Devonshire Road, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough.

He was one of 16 people arrested in the Cleveland Police area, two in London, two in Sussex and one in the Northumbria area.

Senior Investigating Officer Mark Spoors said the suspects were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences and linked to money laundering.

Spot checks were carried out on a number of hand car washes to check them for health and safety, tax and immigration compliance.

Mr Spoors said: “The crime group have used complicit lorry drivers running from France into the UK.”

He said the operation was a success as all targets had been arrested.

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