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Husband and wife joined people smuggling ring to get out of debt

A husband and wife who joined a people smuggling ring to make money to pay off debts have been sentenced.

Pamela and Nicholas Fullwood along with a third defendant, Azad Ahmadi, appeared at Canterbury Crown Court in Kent for sentencing on Monday.

All three were charged with conspiracy to assist with unlawful immigration to a member state following two attempts to smuggle Iraqi nationals into the UK in 2018 and 2019.

But while Mr Fullwood was sentenced to three years in prison, Mrs Fullwood was spared immediate imprisonment and given a two-year suspended sentence.

Francis Lloyd, prosecuting, told the court that Mr Fullwood, 48, hired a van and attempted to bring five illegal migrants to the UK in December 2018 but he was stopped by the French authorities.

Mr and Mrs Fullwood were later caught trying to smuggle two Iraqis hidden inside furniture inside a second hired van a month later while their daughter, then aged 13, travelled with them.

Ahmadi was the “paymaster” of the scheme, Mr Lloyd told the court, transferring £4,280 into the Fullwoods’ bank account.

Mr and Mrs Fullwood, both of Wingfield Road in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, pleaded guilty ahead of a trial. Ahmadi pleaded not guilty but was convicted following a trial at the same court in 2022.

In mitigation, Stephan Alfred, representing Mrs Fullwood, 45, said a psychiatric report found that she has “significant problems with intellectual reasoning and received an abnormally high score on the test for suggestibility and compliance”, adding that she has suffered from cancer and is due to undergo a preventative operation in March.

Rhodri James, defending Mr Fullwood said he had pleaded guilty in August 2021 and said he “wants his family to be reunited as quickly as possible”.

Joe Boyd, representing Ahmadi, said he has a wife and two young children who are totally financially dependent on him, and his car wash business where he employs seven people would be impacted.

Sentencing, Recorder Michael Turner said: “It’s clear to me that in terms of where you stood in the chain of this conspiracy between the three defendants, you, Mr Ahmadi, were at the head of it.

“Seven Iraqis were brought into this country illegally and you were intimately involved in the planning of that.

“Mr Fullwood, you were next down the line from Ahmadi but I accept everything you said in mitigation, and accept there was an element of desperation on your part.

“I know you were threatened by a loan shark you borrowed money from, but at the end of the day your offending cannot be excused.

“Mrs Fullwood, I’m conscious you’re having an operation soon and I’m anxious that should be able to go ahead.

“You were involved in this conspiracy out of a misguided sense of loyalty to your husband.

“Please do not disappoint me. This court deals with a lot of these types of offences and I don’t want to see you come back to court in any circumstances, especially in a case of this nature.”

Ahmadi, 31 and of Westgreen Avenue in Derby, was sentenced to four years and six months imprisonment.

Following the sentencing, minister for immigration Robert Jenrick said: “We are determined to bring to justice the criminal gangs that undertake the repulsive trade of people-smuggling.

“The Home Office is working night and day to dismantle people-smuggling networks and tackle illegal migration head-on.”

Chris Foster, deputy director for immigration enforcement’s criminal and financial investigations, said: “This is another example of immigration enforcement officers doing brilliant work to stop people smugglers from bringing people unlawfully into the country.

“Although criminals are continuing to adapt their methods of smuggling people, our teams are adept at flexing their approach to bring them to justice.”