Two men who used an international horse transport business as cover to “exploit migrants’ desperation” and smuggle them into Britain have been jailed.

Stephen Gardner, who is originally from Beccles, hid “at least three” people in his lorry, which was transporting four horses from Europe, and brought them into the UK on 21 May 2016.

The people-smuggling attempt was organised by Saleh Khaled Farhan, 44, who is originally from Kuwait but was a UK citizen living in Blackburn.

Farhan arranged that Gardner, now 31, would meet the men near Calais, take them to Dover on the ferry and drive them to Elstree, Hertfordshire, where they would be collected.

Throughout the journey, he was in contact with Gardner, and one of the men in the lorry.

Farhan was arrested in June, after which the link the National Crime Agency discovered the link to Gardner.

Officers found text messagess to Garner’s girlfriend, in one of which he said he had been paid some 4,000 (£3,525) for smuggling the migrants.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration. At Birmingham Crown Court on Friday (19 January), Farhan was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison, Gardner to three years.

NCA senior investigating officer Ty Surgeon said: “Gardner used his legitimate business as a cover for people-smuggling, thinking he could make a bit of extra money on the side.

“Farhan was key to the whole plan, and we suspect he will have been involved in many other such ventures. We know that he and Gardner were likely planning another run – in fact they were in contact only days before Farhan’s arrest.

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“These men facilitated the arrival of illegal migrants into the UK by exploiting their desperation, without thought for safety and with the sole motive of profit. Working with law enforcement partners at home and abroad we are determined to protect the UK border and do all we can to disrupt the criminal networks involved in organised immigration crime.”

Gardner, whose vehicle operating licence has been revoked by the DVLA, is registered as a sole trader trading under the business name of Eastelms Horse Transport.

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