Four men have been arrested as part of a National Crime Agency (NCA) operation targeting a group linked to the smuggling of migrants to the UK by lorry.
A 39-year-old man was arrested in Dagenham on Tuesday morning on suspicion of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration. He is alleged to be a senior member of the conspiracy.
Meanwhile, a 37-year-old man was arrested in Ilford, and two further men aged 36 and 42 were detained at addresses in Streatham and Leytonstone, also on suspicion of facilitation offences.
All are due to be questioned by NCA officers.
While putting people in lorries might make the issue less visible to the public, it is no less dangerous to those being smuggled, and unfortunately we have seen the tragic consequences this can have
NCA branch commander Andy Moyes
The arrests are linked to two separate events in 2019, where a total of 32 migrants were found in the back of HGVs in the Netherlands and France. Both drivers and another facilitator were later jailed in those countries.
NCA investigators believe that members of the group were also involved in arranging for lorries to be broken into, with people loaded onto them without the knowledge of drivers.
Tracking devices were attached to the vehicles to locate them before migrants were placed in the rear as they continued their journey to the UK.
Group members are also suspected of obtaining a boat as part of their plans to bring migrants to the UK over the Channel.
NCA branch commander Andy Noyes said: “This operation has targeted those who we suspect are key members of a people smuggling crime group.
“Organised immigration crime is a chronic and dangerous threat and the smugglers pay no regard to the lives of the people they attempt to transport, whether that be by boat or in vehicles.
“While putting people in lorries might make the issue less visible to the public, it is no less dangerous to those being smuggled, and unfortunately we have seen the tragic consequences this can have.
“Working with partners in the UK and overseas, we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the organised crime groups involved, and break down their business model.”
It is the second major operation in a week the NCA has mounted to target suspected people smugglers.
On Tuesday July 5, about 40 people were arrested when NCA officers joined colleagues from around Europe in a series of raids targeting a network suspected of bringing thousands of people to the UK in small boats.
The operation was said to be the biggest of its kind.