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Immigrants risked lives in container

PUBLISHED: 08:38 01 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:46 03 March 2010

SHOCKED hauliers believe 12 suspected illegal immigrants _ including a young child _ found in a container at a Suffolk goods yard could easily have perished.

SHOCKED hauliers believe 12 suspected illegal immigrants – including a young child – found in a container at a Suffolk goods yard could easily have perished.

They say the locked and sealed metal box could have become a gruesome coffin for the stowaways – 10 men and a woman and child – had the container been stored at Ipswich Docks when it was brought ashore.

Instead, the thick metal unit was transported to Woolpit and the Leggetts Transport haulage centre where drivers and other staff were able to hear banging and shouting coming from the box which also contained car parts.

Barry Hynard, operations manager at the Suffolk firm, said the container was brought back to the depot on Tuesday evening: "The driver was finishing up for the night when he heard noises coming from the load."

He called to another member of staff to see if they could work out what it was and they both could clearly hear shouting and banging coming from inside the container.

The police were called and the suspected illegal immigrants were released from the container.

Mr Hynard said staff at Leggetts were now thinking about what could have been: "Although there are air vents in these containers I don't think anyone could survive in there for very long _ a few days at the most.

"It's a frightening thought _ if that container had gone for storage on the docks those voices and bangs may never have been heard and the bodies could have been there for months and months."

"Once they were in there they have no control at all until someone frees them at the other end _ it's terrifying, especially because there was a child in there.

"It shows just how desperate some people are to get out of their own countries. They were willing to risk dying."

The transport manager said the load of car parts was thought to have been sealed at the Peugeot factory in France but it could have been broken and resealed during its trip from the plant to Zeebrugge.

On Wednesday, staff took digital pictures of the load and seals to send back to Peugeot, where an investigation is being carried out.

Mr Hynard said the stowaways, who are thought to have had only a small amount of food and drink with them when they were discovered, made no attempt to escape when the tanker was opened up.

"They were sitting inside and didn't attempt to run away. It was all over within half-an-hour."

A spokesman for Suffolk police said the suspected illegal immigrants were of Middle Eastern appearance and believed to be Iranian.

They were initially taken to Bury but are thought to have been moved elsewhere when immigration officials arrived to take control of the investigation.

A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed that 12 people had been found. She said they were interviewed at a secret location by officials about their "immigration status".

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