Published: 10:16, 12 December 2019
| Updated: 10:28, 12 December 2019
A total of 21 Afghan migrants including nine children were discovered imprisoned on a truck bound for Kent.
Without toilets or washing facilities, the group was discovered alive in Jan Ziga’s truck, locked in a cramped space, en-route to Folkestone from Coquelles.
The 30-year-old was jailed for 10-years after a jury took just two hours to unanimously convict the Czech national of people smuggling.
A judge branded Ziga and his co-conspirators “cruel and callous”, after revealing the discovery is the highest number of illegally imported migrants he had come across.
“What would have happened if there had been an accident on the motorway, a fire, or something of that kind?
“It just shows the callous way this kind of criminal offending operates.
“There were 21 people including nine children in that space, that is the highest number that I have come across.”
Canterbury Crown Court heard the “desperate” stowaways were discovered cramped behind a fake wall towards the front of the trailer, just meters from Ziga’s cabin
The purpose built void, providing just enough room for each migrant to sit, had been screwed shut and could only be opened from the outside.
Border Force officers made the discovery after searching Ziga’s 7.5 tonne truck in Coquelles, which was bound for Folkestone.
An X-ray of the lorry revealed stowaways cramped in the secret compartment at the front of Ziga's trailer, the court heard.
Prosecutors argued the Roma gypsy knew the migrants were on board, however, Ziga claimed he was oblivious to the crowd huddled feet from his cabin.
After he was convicted by the jury, the father-of-three slumped in the dock.
During his three day trial he claimed he had met an unidentified man named “Ali” by chance in a London hotel.
Ziga explained Ali was of Pakistani or Indian descent, but gave him directions in Slovac to drive to Belgium, pick up mattresses, then make himself scarce during the loading process.
He was unable to pinpoint the hotel’s location in court.
He said: “I couldn’t see anything suspicious, I couldn’t see anyone in there (the truck).”
“The French border didn’t see people, the English border didn’t see people, only the X-Ray (system) saw people in there,” he told a jury.
“I’m a Christian, I already have three little children, I wouldn’t have risked it.
“I wouldn’t be able to look into my children’s eyes. Some days I’m stuck in the cell and I don’t come out because I’m so worried about them.”
His barrister Michael Chamberlain asked: “Did you have any suspicion the lorry you were driving was involved in trying to facilitate 21 people coming into this country?”
“No,” he replied.
But prosecutor Kathy Hirst said it was “blindingly obvious” Ziga knew he was smuggling people and dubbed his account “unbelievable”.
She told the jury: “At the back end of the lorry was a false wall, behind which were 21 hopeful migrants.
“Mr Ziga was the driver of the lorry.”
Ziga, of Saint Mary Street in Halifax, was convicted of the facilitation of illegal entrance to the UK, following the incident on June 9.