Court told of refugee found dead at docks during retrial of NI men

The shipping container where a 34-strong group of Afghan Sikhs from Kabul were found at Tilbury Docks, Essex
The shipping container where a 34-strong group of Afghan Sikhs from Kabul were found at Tilbury Docks, Essex

An Afghan asylum seeker was found dead at Tilbury Docks in Essex after being sealed inside a shipping container for more than 12 hours as he and 34 other illegal immigrants were smuggled into the UK, a court has heard.

The Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were rescued on August 16, 2014 after port workers heard banging noises and cries for help.

The group, which included families, was found in a cramped space on top of plastic barrels full of liquid, with condensation pouring from the ceiling.

Among them was Meet Singh Kapoor, a 40-year-old who died during the overnight crossing from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Basildon Crown Court was told the refugees, believed to have fled Kabul in Afghanistan after allegedly suffering persecution and living illegally in Belgium and France, were the “human cargo” of a “sophisticated international organisation” of people smugglers.

Northern Irish lorry drivers Stephen McLaughlin, 36, and Martin McGlinchey, 49, are accused of being in the gang’s “inner circle” and face charges of helping to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK.

Jurors were told the two men were part of a team responsible for arranging the transport logistics of the operation, allegedly organising for the container to be sent from Dover to France so it could be picked up by an innocent man before being loaded with illegal immigrants on a Belgian industrial estate.

Prosecuting, Michael Goodwin told the court the plan was foiled when port workers in Tilbury heard the screams of those in the container.

After the operation was sprung, he said, McLaughlin, from Limavady, Londonderry, and McGlinchey, of Coalisland, Co Tyrone, frantically tried to cover their tracks, destroying mobile phones and sim cards that might implicate them.

The two men are facing a retrial, and deny conspiring to facilitate illegal entry into the UK between June 1 and September 5, 2014.