British mum recovering from life-saving surgery 'accused of drug smuggling' while in ambulance

·4-min read
Collect picture of Rachel Pighills at UK border control on the way to UK from Barcelona after operation,  in old ambulance driven by her husband Guy. A mum who was at risk of being “internally decapitated” after injuring herself on a ceiling fan has returned home after having life-saving surgery in Spain - despite border officials holding her on suspicion of smuggling DRUGS.  See SWNS story SWMDneck.  Rachel Pighills, 36, was left at risk of dying at any moment following a freak accident in August 2018.  She had been moving into a new house when she struck her head on a ceiling fan which was on full-power while she stood on a bed unpacking boxes. Rachel was left with atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination - meaning her brain was sinking into her spine and her skull sliding down onto her neck.  It meant she could no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she did her spine would partially dislocate increasing her risk of paralysis or death. Rachel and husband Guy, 41, spent the last few years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering treatment which is not available on the NHS. They finally reached the milestone last month thanks to a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire who loaned them £130,000.  After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Guy drove her 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.  The surgery was a success but the couple were shocked when they were stopped on their way back to the UK by border force officials at Plymouth docks.  Pictures show Rachel in tears as she anxiously waited for the officials to allow her and Guy to return to the UK on June 17.
Rachel Pighills during a UK Border Force search in Plymouth after returning from a life-saving operation in Spain. (SWNS)

A makeshift ambulance carrying a British woman returning from life-saving surgery in Spain was searched for almost four hours on her return to the UK by Border Force.

Rachel Pighills, 36, was left on a stretcher while Border Force officials stripped down the van transporting her back to the UK. She claimed Border Force accused her and her husband of smuggling drugs.

She was held up at Plymouth for three and a half hours while a search was carried out. Border Force officials found nothing unusual.

Images taken of the search show Mrs Pighills in tears on a stretcher while connected to an oxygen tank inside a warehouse at the docks.

Her husband, Guy, 41, said the couple were "treated like criminals".

Collect picture of Rachel Pighills at UK border control on the way to UK from Barcelona after operation,  in old ambulance driven by her husband Guy. A mum who was at risk of being “internally decapitated” after injuring herself on a ceiling fan has returned home after having life-saving surgery in Spain - despite border officials holding her on suspicion of smuggling DRUGS.  See SWNS story SWMDneck.  Rachel Pighills, 36, was left at risk of dying at any moment following a freak accident in August 2018.  She had been moving into a new house when she struck her head on a ceiling fan which was on full-power while she stood on a bed unpacking boxes. Rachel was left with atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination - meaning her brain was sinking into her spine and her skull sliding down onto her neck.  It meant she could no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she did her spine would partially dislocate increasing her risk of paralysis or death. Rachel and husband Guy, 41, spent the last few years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering treatment which is not available on the NHS. They finally reached the milestone last month thanks to a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire who loaned them £130,000.  After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Guy drove her 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.  The surgery was a success but the couple were shocked when they were stopped on their way back to the UK by border force officials at Plymouth docks.  Pictures show Rachel in tears as she anxiously waited for the officials to allow her and Guy to return to the UK on June 17.
Rachel Pighills on a stretcher at UK border control in Plymouth with all her belongings emptied from her ambulance. (SWNS)

Mrs Pighills, a mother-of-one from Worcestershire, was left at risk of being "internally decapitated" after a freak ceiling fan accident.

The couple had just moved into a new home in August 2018 when the blades hit her on the back of the head.

The impact left her with atlantoaxial instability and basilar invagination - meaning her brain was sinking into her spine.

It meant she could no longer turn her head because her spine would partially dislocate, increasing the risk of paralysis or death.

Collect picture of UK border control searching the old ambulance beloning to  Rachel Pighills. A mum who was at risk of being “internally decapitated” after injuring herself on a ceiling fan has returned home after having life-saving surgery in Spain - despite border officials holding her on suspicion of smuggling DRUGS.  See SWNS story SWMDneck.  Rachel Pighills, 36, was left at risk of dying at any moment following a freak accident in August 2018.  She had been moving into a new house when she struck her head on a ceiling fan which was on full-power while she stood on a bed unpacking boxes. Rachel was left with atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination - meaning her brain was sinking into her spine and her skull sliding down onto her neck.  It meant she could no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she did her spine would partially dislocate increasing her risk of paralysis or death. Rachel and husband Guy, 41, spent the last few years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering treatment which is not available on the NHS. They finally reached the milestone last month thanks to a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire who loaned them £130,000.  After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Guy drove her 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.  The surgery was a success but the couple were shocked when they were stopped on their way back to the UK by border force officials at Plymouth docks.  Pictures show Rachel in tears as she anxiously waited for the officials to allow her and Guy to return to the UK on June 17.
Rachel Pighills had travelled back from Spain in a second-hand ambulance driven by her husband, Guy. (SWNS)

The couple have spent nearly four years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering surgery which is not available on the NHS.

They finally reached the milestone earlier this year thanks to a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire who loaned them £130,000.

After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Mr Pighills drove his wife 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.

The 13-and-a-half-hour surgery on 20 May involved inserting metal rods into her spine and resetting the position of her skull and brain stem.

Read more: Police officer finds 'pathetic' angry parking note on car after chase

Collect picture of Rachel Pighills after operation in  Barcelona.  A mum who was at risk of being “internally decapitated” after injuring herself on a ceiling fan has returned home after having life-saving surgery in Spain - despite border officials holding her on suspicion of smuggling DRUGS.  See SWNS story SWMDneck.  Rachel Pighills, 36, was left at risk of dying at any moment following a freak accident in August 2018.  She had been moving into a new house when she struck her head on a ceiling fan which was on full-power while she stood on a bed unpacking boxes. Rachel was left with atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination - meaning her brain was sinking into her spine and her skull sliding down onto her neck.  It meant she could no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she did her spine would partially dislocate increasing her risk of paralysis or death. Rachel and husband Guy, 41, spent the last few years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering treatment which is not available on the NHS. They finally reached the milestone last month thanks to a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire who loaned them £130,000.  After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Guy drove her 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.  The surgery was a success but the couple were shocked when they were stopped on their way back to the UK by border force officials at Plymouth docks.  Pictures show Rachel in tears as she anxiously waited for the officials to allow her and Guy to return to the UK on June 17.
Rachel Pighills after her operation in a hospital in Barcelona. (SWNS)

The operation was a success and after almost four weeks in hospital, the couple drove back to the UK on 17 June.

But after a 20-hour overnight ferry from Santander to Plymouth, they were stopped by Border Force officials.

Officials finally let the couple, who have a 14-year-old daughter, continue their homeward journey after their search.

Mrs Pighills is now recovering at home from her operation.

“After all we’ve been through, after the operation we were so looking forward to coming home," she said.

“When we arrived in Plymouth, Border Force literally leapt on our vehicle and accused us of being drug smugglers.

“I couldn’t believe it. We had all the documentation but they wouldn’t listen. One of them was really rude and looked quite disappointed when they couldn’t find anything.

“Bizarrely, neither the sniffer dog or the officials found the big bag of opiates and painkillers I’d been given by the clinic.”

Mr Pighills, an operations manager who had been forced to drive at just 40mph on the journey home to avoid any sudden movements, said: "We got spotted by Border Control and they stripped our ambulance to pieces.

"They stripped the panels, took the air panels off and shoved a camera everywhere and they found nothing.

"It was horrendous, it was painful for Rachel and it has affected her recovery and set her back.

Rachel Pighills with her husband Guy at home in Pershore, Worcestershire. 27/06/2022. A mum who was at risk of being “internally decapitated” after injuring herself on a ceiling fan has returned home after having life-saving surgery in Spain - despite border officials holding her on suspicion of smuggling DRUGS.  See SWNS story SWMDneck.  Rachel Pighills, 36, was left at risk of dying at any moment following a freak accident in August 2018.  She had been moving into a new house when she struck her head on a ceiling fan which was on full-power while she stood on a bed unpacking boxes. Rachel was left with atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination - meaning her brain was sinking into her spine and her skull sliding down onto her neck.  It meant she could no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she did her spine would partially dislocate increasing her risk of paralysis or death. Rachel and husband Guy, 41, spent the last few years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering treatment which is not available on the NHS. They finally reached the milestone last month thanks to a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire who loaned them £130,000.  After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Guy drove her 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.  The surgery was a success but the couple were shocked when they were stopped on their way back to the UK by border force officials at Plymouth docks.  Pictures show Rachel in tears as she anxiously waited for the officials to allow her and Guy to return to the UK on June 17.
Rachel Pighills with her husband Guy after arriving home in Pershore, Worcestershire. (SWNS)

"They asked her to get off the stretcher but we wanted her to stay which made them suspicious that we were trying to hide something.

"They made us wheel Rachel off the ambulance and bless her, she was screaming her head off when she was going down and then they stripped the ambulance and this affected her breathing and her oxygen levels due to the stress that this caused her.

"They made us wheel the luggage off. We took months' worth of Rachel's medication but the dog didn't even find that.

"As soon as we propped her up and they could see the dressing all down her back the mood changed. But we didn't get an apology. It was the most traumatic experience I've ever been through."

The couple are raising money to pay back the £130,000 loan through a GoFundMe page.

Yahoo News UK has contacted the Home Office, which is responsible for Border Force, for comment.

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