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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Chinese human smugglers jailed
The interior of the lorry where the immigrants died
The 58 who died were suffocated in a lorry carrying tomatoes

A Dutch court has sentenced seven members of a Chinese criminal gang to up to six years in jail for smuggling illegal immigrants into the UK from China.

Four of the suspects were charged in connection with the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants, who were found dead in a lorry in the UK town of Dover in 2000.

The seven people convicted on Friday were among eight arrested last year in raids in Rotterdam, when 51 people were found in two safe houses awaiting transportation to Britain.

A British court had already sentenced the driver of the truck, Dutchman Perry Wacker, to 14 years in prison and a Chinese interpreter to six.

In all nine people had already been sentenced for their part in the tragedy.

False documents

On Friday, Liu Si Yong received a six-year jail term and was fined $25,000 for playing a leading role in a criminal organisation that was involved in the Dover tragedy.

Immigrants were held in houses where they were abused without reason, and were asked to pay exorbitant fees
Judge Pauline Hofmeyer

Wu Wan Quin was also convicted for the Dover case. He got three years in prison.

The one woman on trial, known as Sister P, received a three-year jail term and a $12,000 fine, but was acquitted of involvement in the Dover case.

An eighth suspect was convicted of providing false documents to illegal immigrants but not found guilty of belonging to the gang.

'Exorbitant fees'

BBC correspondent Geraldine Coughlan says prosecutors claimed Sister P was one of the biggest people smugglers in Western Europe.

They had demanded sentences of up to 10 years for the eight people on trial, but in a setback for the prosecution, the court found their evidence, based mostly on police investigations and telephone taps, was incomplete.

However, Judge Pauline Hofmeyer acknowledged the gravity of the crimes.

Reading out the verdict, she said immigrants "travelled far, sometimes on foot, and were sometimes forced to wait in water or in boxes".

"They weren't properly fed. They were held in houses where they were abused without reason, and were asked to pay exorbitant fees, which makes this case very serious indeed".

In spite of the setback Dutch prosecutors are pressing on with their fight against people smugglers. A new people smuggling case is just about to begin and police expect to make more arrests.

'Motionless bodies'

The Dover case - in which of only two out of the 60 people survived - horrified the UK.

Customs officials who found the vehicle described being confronted by a "sea of motionless bodies" when they searched a lorry on 18 June 2000.

The driver of the van, Dutchman Perry Wacker, had closed the only air vent on the side of the container to avoid detection by immigration officials.

Those who died were found to have suffocated.

Wacker was convicted of 58 counts of manslaughter in 2001 for his part in the deaths and jailed for 14 years.

The two who survived were among a string of witnesses in the case.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jane Hughes
"Prosecutors say it is notoriously difficult to win convictions in cases like this one"



SEE ALSO:
The deadly journey
05 Apr 01  |  UK News
The Dover tragedy: Europe reflects
20 Jun 00  |  Media reports


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