People smugglers 'using less busy UK ports'

Ship freight containers sit on Tilbury Dock Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The port of Tilbury in Essex has become a more attractive destination for people smugglers

Crime gangs are attempting to smuggle migrants into the UK at "less busy" ports after a clampdown at major ports, the National Crime Agency has warned.

Ports such as Hull and Tilbury are being used following tighter security through routes to Dover and Folkestone.

People smugglers have also used rigid-hulled inflatable boats to get people across to "shallow beaches", including Whitstable in Kent.

The agency said "hundreds" of criminals in Britain were involved in smuggling.

The details were revealed by the National Crime Agency (NCA) which is leading a task force, known as Project Invigor, to combat the criminal gangs behind illegal immigration.

Migrants paid as little as 130 euros (£100) for a "single attempt through unsophisticated means" from France to the UK.

It cost at least 8,000 euros (£6,400) for a "guaranteed" journey in a "high-quality" concealment.

'Tailoring their activities'

The taskforce - set up by Prime Minister David Cameron last June - is said by the NCA to be the biggest of its kind in Europe.

It has a staff of 90, which is expected to grow to more than 100 this year, and includes police officers, officials from the Crown Prosecution Service and immigration and border officials from the Home Office.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Border Force staff checking lorries and trucks

The NCA's Border Policing Command deputy director Tom Dowdall said there were "regular" reports each week involving people smuggling at ports that were less commonly associated with illegal immigration.

He suggested it was caused by the "displacement" effect of tighter security in northern France, together with juxtaposed controls, leading gangs to use routes from Belgium and Holland.

"We're seeing evidence of criminals using less busy ports within the UK.

"We've seen on the east coast evidence from Tilbury and Purfleet, up as far as Hull and Immingham, and on the south coast from Newhaven to Portsmouth, and in some instances beyond that as well."

Two years ago, 35 Afghan Sikhs were discovered in a shipping container at Tilbury Docks - one of the migrants had died in the overnight crossing from Belgium.

The NCA said there had also been a "small number" of attempts since last August of rigid-hulled inflatable boats being used to get people to the UK, including two "interdictions" near Jersey.

Ian Cruxton, director of the NCA's Organised Crime Command, said: "We do see them [criminal gangs] making their own assessment of what our capabilities are, and sometimes tailoring their activities accordingly."

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