Increase in stowaways poses "serious risk" to food supply - MP
PUBLISHED: 08:21 08 January 2015 | UPDATED: 08:21 08 January 2015
Sir Jim Paice says that an increase in cases of illegal immigrants hiding onboard lorries bound for East Cambridgeshire has become a "very serious and major issue" that is threatening food supplies.
The MP for SE Cambs said that Barway-based G’s Fresh, one of the largest farming groups in the region, had seen a big increase in cases in the past year, including three incidents in just a week leading up to Christmas.
In one incident, on December 15, 12 people – four of them children - were found hiding inside a lorry that had arrived in Barway from Spain.
In Parliament on Monday, Sir Jim called for tougher penalties for anyone involved in helping illegal immigrants to enter the country and asked the Home Secretary, Theresa May, if she would meet with him and representatives from the farming industry to discuss ways of “getting on top of the issue”.
Sir Jim said: “We are now seeing lorry loads of fresh produce from Spain, ready packed and prepared to go on the shelf, going straight to supermarket distribution centres.
“The lorries are unlocked and people are found inside. The whole load is then immediately condemned as unfit for human consumption, so there is massive cost and massive food waste.
“Retailers are beginning to be concerned about supply. Relying on lorry-loads of lettuce, celery, spring onions and so on that have to be condemned on arrival causes havoc in their supply chain.
“The business in my constituency, which is not unique, had 263 lorries a week bringing produce from Spain. This is not just the odd lorry load: this is a very serious and major issue, and large numbers of people are involved.
“There is evidence that in some cases drivers may be complicit. I am not saying that every driver is complicit—I am sure that the vast majority are not.
“Nevertheless, an important message to get across is that a driver who is complicit is not just guilty on their own. If they are construed to have been a part of an organised crime operation, the offence they commit is even more serious and the penalty should accordingly be far tougher.”
A spokesman for G’s Fresh said: “We have had a year-on-year increase in incidents of stowaways found in lorries that have come across the channel.
“From our perspective, any truck or lorry that comes on to our site, they all have locks on them, and if those locks have been tampered with we immediately call police.
“If people are found inside they are removed and the goods have to be disposed of.
“It’s an industry-wide problem which we have discussed with Sir Jim and we are keen to see a resolution.”