Published: 16:52, 21 June 2022
| Updated: 11:03, 22 June 2022
A failed Dover businessman has been jailed for four years for being one of the main conspirators in an international human trafficking gang.
Former Irish Gaelic footballer Wayne Sherlock was arrested after a lorry with 10 Vietnamese adults was stopped in Belgium as police worked with the National Crime Agency (NCA).
It is believed that the scam came to light in March 2020 when a lorry driver was unable to make the rendezvous in Belgium.
The 42-year-old, from Malmains Road, admitted his part in the scam and has spent the past two years on remand - and is expected to be released immediately.
Maidstone Crown Court heard how none of the Vietnamese made it to the UK after Belgium police found them hidden in a lorry carrying tyres.
Judge Robert Lazarus told him: "You occupied a very significant role in what must have been an international conspiracy to traffic illegal people into the UK."
He added that immigration laws were viewed as divisive and illegal immigrants were "very much the fuel behind racism and hate crimes", adding "And international crime groups worsen the problems".
The judge told the Sherlock that those who were trafficked were vulnerable and often hurt by the journey to the UK - although none of the Vietnamese were harmed.
"But once inside the UK, such individuals become invisible having no legitimate papers and are often trafficked into drugs, prostitution and forced labour.
"It is a dreadful crime that causes harm in so many ways," he added.
The prosecutor said Sherlock was one of the "organisational hubs" in the conspiracy - although "not at the very top".
Defence barrister Ronnie Manek said: "There were others above him in the chain in various countries."
He told the court that Sherlock played Gaelic Football for his local club and county.
"He was recruited to play semi-professionally in Chicago when he was 21 years old.
"The club paid for his travel and accommodation and they set him up with a good job in construction; he signed with the club, Chicago Parnells on a one year contract."
Later Sherlock came to Kent and set up his own company, Shamrock Distribution which later went bust leaving him homeless.
After sentencing, NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham said: “Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA.
"People smugglers put lives at risk in pursuit of profit, and we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks involved in this exploitative crime.”