Published: 12:20, 08 February 2019
| Updated: 13:34, 08 February 2019
A gang of people smugglers brought eight stowaways into Kent on a hot summer's day sealed inside an almost airtight container.
The illegals, including three children and a 10 month old baby, were wedged inside a specially made compartment in a Mercedes Sprinter van as it headed towards Folkestone.
The vehicle was stopped on the French Channel Tunnel side at Cocquelles.
The plot was uncovered by sharp-eyed UK Border Force staff who noted an area in the rear of the van was very hot.
And a judge has heard that when the hideaway which measured 2ft by 6inch deep by 3ft high and 6ft wide was discovered the Afghan nationals were gasping for water.
Prosecutor Angela Knight told Canterbury Crown Court that a gap for ventilation was covered by a mattress and “ there was no possibility of escaping from that space until somebody unloaded the van and let them out.”
Now the Romanian gang – aged between 23 and 34 – have received jail terms totalling more than 19 years for their part in the people smuggling operation last year.
Ms Knight said: “The five Romanian defendants, four men and a woman, were all riding in the front passenger compartment of the van, just inches away from where the Afghan men women and children had been hidden.
"They had been returning from France when they were stopped at the border and quizzed."
She told how the driver asked to open the rear of the van and revealed it was full of assorted bags and boxes.. ..including one which had a label on it addressed to Stoke On Trent.
“The Border Force officers decided to unload the back of the van, a process that took something in the region of 20 minutes to do.
“The rear was completely filled with old bags, boxes and parcels of old and soiled clothing. It was noticed that the temperature inside the rear cargo compartment was becoming noticeably hotter.”
Ms Knight added that inside a hidden space officers found a family including a father, mother, three children aged eight, six and four and a baby aged nine months.
“ The other two people inside the space were a husband and wife. One officer described it as being extremely cramped and the temperature as being almost unbearable.
“The people hidden in there were all immediately helped out and all appeared to be struggling to walk and were asking for water.”
The van had left Dover the day before with just two people on board and the three others travelled later and met up in Boulogne.
Today, Ion Apostol, 34, from London, who was found guilty at a trial earlier this year, was jailed for six years.
Dimitri Cojanu, 23, also from London received a three year nine month sentence after pleading guilty.
Matei Nedelcu, 25, of no fixed address admitted his part and was given a three year four month prison term.
Husband and wife team Ionut Vasilica, 25 and Camelia-Florina Teleaga, 30, also of no fixed address each received jail sentences of three years and two months after also pleading guilty.