The three migrants – two adults and a 15-year-old-girl – were discovered at the UK control zone in Coquelles, France, when Border Force officers pulled aside Robert Rooney’s Ford Mondeo.
The 35 year old from Edmonton in north London, had been planning to cross to the UK through the Eurotunnel on 5 October when he was stopped and checked.
When a Border Force officer asked him to open the roof box, he claimed he had lost the keys. The Sky News reports
Officers managed to partially prise open the box and saw there were people inside.
After arresting Rooney and finding the keys on him, the officers were able to fully open the box, where they found the three Vietnamese in a distressed state.
Dan Scully, Border Force Regional Director, said the trio had been locked inside a tiny space just a metre long, kept in the dark, without ventilation.
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“Smuggling people into the UK in this way is incredibly dangerous and put the lives of the individuals at huge risk,” he said.
“Crammed into a confined space inside the roof box must have been terrifying. It’s thanks to the vigilance of Border Force officers that they were discovered and that Rooney was caught.
“Border Force officers will continue to work with law enforcement colleagues here and in France to ensure that smugglers face the full consequences of their crimes.”
The investigation was passed to officers from Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation team.
The Irish national admitted facilitating a breach of the UK’s immigration laws.
Deputy Director Dave Fairclough, from the CFI team, said: “Rooney deliberately placed three people in an extremely precarious situation. He was prepared to turn a blind eye to the obvious risks as long as he was benefiting.
“He has rightly been handed a custodial sentence. The message to the callous criminals engaged in immigration related criminality is clear – you will be caught and the consequences will be severe.”
Rooney’s imprisonment comes just two days after people smuggler Charles Lynch was jailed for trying to smuggle eight Albanians into the UK on board his motor cruiser last November.
Two Border Force vessels and a coastguard helicopter chased the 46ft long boat for several miles across the Channel after they spotted it travelling at high speed.
When they boarded the vessel just a few miles from the English coast, officers found five Albanian men, two women and a child inside.
Lynch had a long string of criminal convictions and had been on the run since escaping prison in Kent 28 years ago.
In 2019, more than 1,900 migrants were intercepted trying to cross the Channel by sea, mostly in tiny unseaworthy dinghies.
But the vast majority of illegal entry into the UK still occurs through the road network, mainly in the back of lorries.
In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Grays, Essex.
Although migrants are sometimes found hiding in smaller vehicles, Rooney’s case is the first time Border Force officers have found people crammed into such a tiny space.
The three Vietnamese citizens involved were traumatised but otherwise uninjured. They were later handed over to French border officials.
Reporting by Mark White @ Sky News/ Asia Insider