A British mother has been found guilty of attempting to smuggle 12 Vietnamese migrants into the UK via the Channel Tunnel.
Katy Bethel was six months pregnant when she was caught with four men, five women and three children hidden among stacks of old car tyres in the back of a truck she was traveling in at Coquelles Eurotunnel terminal in July 2015.
The 28-year-old was arrested alongside her boyfriend Aaron Harris when Border Force officials spotted a pair of denim-clad legs protruding from a stack of tyres piled up in the rear of their Mercedes Sprinter van.
Bethel told Maidstone Crown Court she was unware of the illicit human “cargo” concealed in the back of the vehicle she was travelling in, claiming she had driven to France with Harris to buy alcohol with which to celebrate the impending birth of her fourth child.
When asked why there was no alcohol found in the van, she replied that she and Harris had been unable to buy any as they kept getting lost.
The couple sent and received 67 messages and calls from an unknown number during the four hours they spent in France, the court heard.
Harris, who previously pleaded guilty to a charge of abetting unlawful immigration, claimed the vehicle was his work van, and that everything inside it was his except for the tyres, which were the property of his boss, Prosecutor Michael Morris told jurors.
“Mr Harris was requested to open the rear doors,” Morris told the court.
“Upon opening the doors officers saw what appeared to be jeans or jeaned legs within the tyres.
“An officer said: ‘What’s that then?’ He replied: ‘How did he get in?’
“In total there were 12 Vietnamese nationals in the back of that van concealed in the load of tyres. They were all illegal entrants trying to get into the United Kingdom.”
Bethel, who was convicted of assisting unlawful immigration, sobbed in court after being told she faces jail when she is sentenced alongside Harris on 11 September.
She was released on bail to allow her time to make arrangements for the care of her four daughters.
Commenting after sentencing, David Fairclough, Assistant Director of Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation team, said: “Harris and Bethel initially claimed to be having a day at the beach, but in reality their visit to France had a much more sinister purpose.
“The pair gave little or no thought to the safety of their human cargo. Crammed into a tight space, had the vehicle been involved in any kind of accident the consequences could have been tragic.
“People smuggling is a crime which puts vulnerable people into dangerous situations in the name of profit. This case shows my officers will not hesitate to bring those involved before the courts.”