Steve Allen 4am - 7am
LBC investigation sees prolific people smuggler jailed and banned from France
9 April 2021, 07:31 | Updated: 9 April 2021, 08:26
LBC has been lauded for the "instrumental" role its major investigation played in putting a prolific people smuggler behind bars and having him banned from ever returning to France once he's freed.
Two years ago, LBC launched its biggest ever investigation into the criminal gangs of people smugglers operating out of Northern France.
These groups prey on the desperation of asylum seekers who, after already perilous journeys, want to complete that last leg into the UK.
They often charge thousands of pounds at a time to put these men, women and children on dangerous, overcrowded boats and life-rafts, pushing them out to sea and telling them to aim for Dover.
One of the many gang leaders getting rich off this scheme was a man known as 'Farooq'.
In the Autumn of 2019, our undercover reporter tracked him down to his camp in the Dunkirk woodland.
But, in reality, Farooq was actually 42-year-old Waqar Ahmad.
Our reporter pretended to be trying to get a relative on a boat to Britain.
Farooq told us it would cost £7,000, and our reporter had three days to make the payment to a number of sites in the UK.
He claimed he would pack the boat with 20/30 people, and had already sent 300-400 people across to England.
From his tent in the forest, Farooq also boasted that the French police would often help his men, claiming they'd alert them when UK patrols were out in the water.
Then, our reporter Paul, set up one final meeting with Farooq, in a pizza restaurant in a shopping mall near his base.
But this time I went out to France with a small team, to confront him.
LBC passed the evidence gathered over to the authorities, who promptly raided suspected business premises used by Farooq, but he had fled France.
But, in a sign of how crucial the country and this crossing is to his organisation, he returned in January 2021 and was quickly arrested and charged.
An investigation by French authorities found over a four-month period the target of the LBC investigation had facilitated about 80 people illegally entering the UK by small boat, lorry and van.
He pleaded not guilty and went to trial, and was found guilty on March 26 of this year and was jailed for seven years for the offence of people smuggling.
He was also fined 50,000 euros, and, in a rare move, he will be kicked out of France and banned from ever returning once he's served his sentence.
At his trial he claimed he had wanted to travel to England himself and had merely been trying to help others.
It's clear the authorities were already monitoring him and his associates, but the French have said LBC's investigation was 'instrumental' in securing the conviction, with the UK Home Office telling saying our video "was a valuable evidential product."
It is the longest sentence handed down in a joint UK/France anti-smuggling operation involving small boats.
A Home Office spokesperson told LBC: “We are always pleased to see justice done and for dangerous people smugglers to be behind bars.
“Improved intelligence sharing with the French is an important part of bringing this vile trade to an end and we will continue to work with them to ensure that those who put lives at risk for money face the full force of the law.
“As part of the New Plan for Immigration announced by the Home Secretary recently we proposed increased sentences in the UK for the facilitation of illegal entry to act as a further deterrent to these criminals.”
Even after this victory, the problem persists.
Last summer record-breaking numbers of people risked their lives to make the journey across the Channel.
Rasul Iran Nezhad and his wife, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both 35, and two of their children, Anita, nine, and Armin, six, were Iranian Kurds, who paid smugglers thousands of euros after two failed attempts to make it across.
It's clear that so long as there are people fleeing trauma, desperate to make it here for work, family, or just the promise of a better life - men like Farooq, will be ready and waiting to exploit them.