I am a former European Lorry driver with over 8 years experience. It is now my time to add my story of the worse trip I had coming back to the UK.
It was back in 2008 heading back from Italy on my weekly run, as usual in Italy I left late on a Friday night I managed to get through the Mont Blanc tunnel.
So on Saturday morning I had a nice run up, I knew it would be hard to make it back to the UK, so that on my mind I took the decision to stop at a services the north side of Reims. Even back then most driver knew that people wanted to get to the UK illegally hiding in the back of a trailer.
I should say when you leave any destination in Europe and you are heading back to the UK, you lock your trailer and have a cord which goes all the way round the trailer then it’s sealed with a id number. You fill out a form when you leave with all the relevant information, time of leaving, seal number which will also be on the CMR.
Then every time you stop for a break you will fill out the form with the time date and place you stopped. This if done correctly will match your tachograph if any problems arise.
So I’ve stopped at a services just north at Reims called ‘aire de service du champ roland’ the reason for this is because it was three hours from Calais hoping I was far enough from Calais but had enough time to get into the port without going over my driving time.
Not sure if you knew not being a Lorry driver but in France and some other European countries that at 2200hrs on a Saturday night you have to be parked up as then for 24hrs you are not aloud to drive in France( yes there is exceptions to this rule like you can drive into and from Belgium, and if you have perishable goods on board). Well I stopped at the services on the Saturday night knowing I would be leaving in the early hours of Monday morning, I remember the weekend as clearly as it was yesterday as it was a miserable weekend, the rain and wind was lashing against the truck.
So after a uneventful weekend, you can only walk around a service area for so long. I left at four am local time, before I left I did my usual checks, including the back door seal and cord all was okay, but as I looked up at the back doors I noticed something, the back doors had marks near the top which seemed odd as I had been driving all week and had been parked up for the weekend and with the bad weather. so seeing two clear white marks on a dirty back door starts ringing alarm bells.
Like I’ve said I had done my checks so I doubled checked, pulled the cord nothing broke and seals all in tact.
I decided that if anyone is in the trailer then they got in through the roof, remember it’s 4am in the morning and no one is around, I was not going to open my back doors and get over run my people in the trailer. So I thought I would drive to Calais get in to the port then get the back doors open by the French authorities, so when they break the seal it can all be documented.
So I arrive in the port of Calais, and go straight into a shed this is where you get checked by the French they put what can only be described as magnets but they are not they are are supposed to monitor if anyone is in the trailer, even with me saying to them about the marks on the back door and they have mirrors on the roof of the shed you can see if any holes in the trailer roof, not great lighting in the shed but they waved me on saying all was okay. I was not happy but at least I had it all on record. So I go through to reach the British passport side, passport shown all ok. When you go pass this part there was two more sheds for the the UK border force. One border force bloke there either telling you to go round the sheds or go in, I was told to go round, but I said to the bloke about my feeling and what happened in the French shed, and I wasn’t happy. He wasn’t to happy but he decided by probing the side of the trailer what happened next was very quick, he yelled out to open the shed and get me to drive in to their shed, doors closing very quickly behind me. They again probed the side of the trailer and all there readings went of the scale.
They asked for my passport and paperwork then asked me to open the back doors, I broke the seal and opened the back doors, this is when we noticed five people just sitting on the industrial fans which I had in the back. Out they come, in the mean time I get asked to pull the side curtains open on both sides so they can check further in the trailer. Another three are found in the middle of the trailer out they come, another two found right at the front of the trailer. If I hadn’t been there and seen it with my own eyes I would not believe what happened next. We all looked and thought all was clear until the box on top slightly wobbled, we all looked and decided to open the box, inside was a male adult inside, we all had to laugh at the cheek of these people. We all looked around by the back doors wondering how they got in when we noticed the tear in the roof about two foot long, but had been sewn back up with a white lace or string so it was hard to spot until you got close to it.
Then it all stopped and the UKBA tell me I’m under arrest for people smuggling , as back then if you was found with more then ten people on board then automatically you as classed as people smuggling.
I was taken to a side room and asked question after question out of the window I can see the migrants being processed in a room and waiting for the French police to come and take them away. In the end and give the UKBA credit they where good and could see that I had done everything in my powers to stop them getting in the trailer, but warned me that it was £2000 per illegal and I was still looking at a hefty fine. I was then told after two hours that the French police wanted to speak to me, so I get taken around to the police station which is in the port, into the station I go and who do I see but the 11 illegals in the station.
I get told I must wait, but in the first hour I’m waiting I see the 11 being released after being processed, so I’m there and seeing the people who broke into the trailer, who broke the law going free before me…. Would you be happy.
Five hours in the station I had to wait before they start getting around to question me. Not once did I get asked if I wanted a drink or food, as they wouldn’t let me back to my truck to get anything.
Apparently they where waiting for a translator which made this all the more amusing if it was not worrying, they asked loads of questions and I showed them the form with all my check list in order and my tachograph they all matched up.
We were getting no where with the questioning as he was repeating themselves but I just kept going back with all my paperwork saying it was all in check.
In the end the officer told me to tell my boss that all his trucks should be fitted with metal sheets in the roof to stop this happening, and again threatened that a fine will be heading our way. After 13 hours in total of being held I was released.
A few weeks later I got a fine of £6000, luckily for me I had a fantastic transport manager and owner of the company who fought this fine for me, writing to the UKBA. In the end I was let of the fine as they had nothing to prosecute me with as everything they tell you to do I did.
I apologise to all who read this I did try and make it short. I’m sure it won’t be the last story a Lorry driver will write about his experience and I’m sure a lot are worse then mine but this is the one which I remember so well to this day. I can’t even imagine what they go through on a daily basis now.
My question to other people is would you go to work if you had this trouble going about your work, what would other people do in this instance. Remember this was 2008 it was happening even years before this. Peter