People smugglers caught hiding family of five in back of van jailed

Three people smugglers caught hiding a family of five in the back of a van have been jailed.

Leontin Padure, 37, Maria-Mirabela Bulumez, 22, and Marcel-Ionut Frant, 27, were all arrested on February 16 after they were stopped at an Essex port.

Border Force officers searched a red Mercedes Sprinter van driven by Padure at Harwich International Port after it arrived on a ferry from the Netherlands.

The officers found four people hiding in a false bulkhead in the rear of the van, with a fifth person hiding behind the row of seats.

Air holes had been drilled into the hiding place where the family of three men and two women from Afghanistan were found.

Officers also found tools used to seal up the false partition between the driver’s cab and the back of the van.

The three smugglers, all originally from Romania with no fixed UK address, admitted charges of assisting unlawful immigration.

They were each sentenced to 30 months in prison on August 24 at Chelmsford Crown Court, the Home Office said.

Frant was also handed a nine-month concurrent sentence for possessing a false driving licence.

“We will not tolerate people smuggling in any form, and are doing all we can to tackle those responsible for this appalling trade,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said.

“This was a reckless attempt to circumvent our border controls and anyone in doubt about the consequences of such actions should take note – you will be caught and put behind bars.”

The Home Office said the cases of the family are being dealt with according to the immigration rules.