Monday, 11 April 2011

Smugglers on ITV


Programme One

The UK’s roll on, roll off ferries present the greatest opportunity to the smugglers. At ports like Dover the numbers are stacked in their favour. This first programme in the series follows the officers of the UK Borders agency as they deal with wave after wave of smugglers.

A new ferry arrives in Dover every 20 minutes. 7,000 lorries and 10,000 cars pass through every day. 80 billion pounds of legitimate trade comes through every year, hidden amongst it, is millions of pounds of smuggled goods.

Malcolm Bragg, the Assistant Director of Criminal and Financial Investigations for the UK Border Agency reveals: “Hardly a day goes by that we don’t find something, whether that is illegal immigrants, whether that is drugs, whether that is cigarettes, tobacco, pornography, firearms, every single ferry will have either a lorry, a car, a van or a person on it trying to smuggle something into this country through Dover.”

The film follows officers of the UK Border Agency whose suspicions have been raised by one driver returning from Holland. The driver is 62 year old Stuart McDonald, a retired taxi driver from Birmingham. An examination of his vehicle reveals what appears to be a gun shaped package. A more detailed search uncovers it’s actually 5 kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of £200,000.

The amount he was smuggling, is a small fraction of the two and half tonnes of cocaine seized annually at UK Borders. But what officers stop is just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that a further 25-27 and a half tonnes of cocaine, gets into the UK undetected every year.

In court, McDonald said that he was forced to take part in smuggling due to threats to him and his family. He pleaded guilty and received a four and half year sentence.

Malcolm Bragg says: “We often find that people in his position will not admit at the beginning the full extent of what they have done. They quite often don’t even want to be honest with themselves, they kind of want to forget about it. They kind of have convinced themselves that everything is okay, they are going to get away with it, and then when they are caught, then the reality of what they have done, and the position that they have found themselves in sinks in.”

Cigarette and tobacco smuggling may appear to be a low level crime but it costs us an estimated £2 billion pounds in lost revenue every year. The programme shows how British holiday makers try their hand at duty free smuggling.

In Southampton, Keith Tulley and his team brace themselves for a cruise liner returning from the Canary Islands.

Keith Tulley says: “The actual notion of the average British smuggler is that it is almost a tradition that stems back from the culture that was developed in Cornwall and 300 years ago and it is still present today. It is regarded almost as sport.”

One woman is caught with 20 times the maximum allowance of cigarettes as she leaves the cruise liner, claiming they were all for her own use. The cigarettes are confiscated and she is given a caution. An estimated eight billion cigarettes get through undetected every year.

Smugglers films with officers at Harwich on the east coast of England. It’s one of The UK’s smaller ports but a port of choice for organised crime.

Crime gangs invest a huge amount of money and time to hide their merchandise, creating sophisticated hiding places in the lorries known as concealments.

The UK Border Agency’s latest weapon against the smuggling gangs is a multi-million pound x-ray scanner. It can detect the smallest alteration to the lorry or the load inside.

UK Border Agency team leader at Harwich, Giles Young says: “We had a van load about six months ago of clothing and they ran it through the scanner because they weren’t happy with it and they couldn’t unload it. There were eight people in boxes inside the clothing. I think they were Iranian nationals. But literally they come up beautifully on the scan. You could see these little figures hunched over on the cardboard boxes.”

The cameras follow Giles Young and his officers as the machine scans one lorry and detects a secret compartment in the floor of the trailer.

After meticulous inspection of the vehicle packages containing 160 kilos of cannabis are found which have an estimated street value of £400,000. Organised criminals factor such losses into their business plans. The UK Market remains incredibly attractive to the smugglers it’s estimated to be worth over £1 billion a year.

The big consignments of drugs arrive on UK’s shores in container ships, fishing vessels and yachts. The UK Border Agency has five Cutters which patrol the sea lanes to stop and search vessels they suspect may be carrying illegal cargo.

The programme follows a Cutter Crew as they stop a huge container ship off the South East Coast, after receiving intelligence that it is carrying a large consignment of drugs. Ten specially trained search officers board the target vessel along with a team of divers from the Metropolitan Police who search the hull.

They find three boxes attached to the ship below the waterline, containing 150 kilos of cannabis with an estimated street value of half a million pounds.

Despite record yields of home-grown cannabis, there’s still a healthy market for the smugglers. An estimated 300 tonnes a year are needed to meet demand in the UK.

Officer Mark Jefferson says: “The opposition in South America are so well organised, and have so much money that they are able to just follow ships around the world, waiting for what is an opportune moment to put divers down and recover the goods.”

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