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The BBC's Valerie Jones
"If this money wasn't paid back both his life was at risk, and the lives of his family"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 15:04 GMT
Immigrant 'paid smugglers 17,000'
Police work near where the bodies of 58 Chinese immigrants were found
Fifty-eight illegal immigrants suffocated to death
A Chinese illegal immigrant has told a jury how he paid the equivalent of 24 years' salary to be smuggled into Britain.

Feng He, 20, endured a nightmare six-month journey from China to the UK, crossing the English Channel in an airless, hot lorry, Maidstone Crown Court heard.

The lorry was very big - it was lacking oxygen and I had difficulty breathing

Feng He

He was then kept prisoner in a high-rise flat in London by minders of a Snakehead gang until his family paid the 17,000 fee for his journey.

The former factory worker was giving evidence in the trial of lorry driver Perry Wacker who is charged with the manslaughter of 58 Chinese men and women found dead in a lorry at Dover last year.

Mr Wacker, 32, from Rotterdam, Holland, is also charged with four counts of conspiring to smuggle immigrants into Britain.

A female interpreter, Ying Guo, 29, of South Woodford, Essex, is jointly charged on another count of conspiracy to smuggle immigrants into the country.

They both deny all charges.

Customs and Excise officers found the suffocated bodies of 54 men and four women in the airtight lorry container on 18 June last year at Dover's eastern docks.

Two people survived.

'Bogus asylum form'

Mr He - who was already in the UK by the time of the Dover tragedy - told the court that he had always wanted to leave China and agreed to pay the gang to smuggle him to England.

He said his parents had to borrow nearly all the smuggling fee from the criminal organisation in the form of a high interest loan.

The court heard how the translator, Ying Guo, had been Mr He's contact in London and had filled out his bogus asylum application form.

A lorry being searched
Lorries are searched daily for stowaways

He told the court he left his home in the Fujian province of China on 3 August 1999, and eventually arrived in Britain on 22 February 2000, after being packed into the back of a lorry with 50 to 60 other Chinese immigrants in Belgium or Holland.

Mr He said: "The lorry was very big. It was very dark and you could not see. It was lacking oxygen and I had difficulty breathing."

When he arrived in England he was kept by Snakehead minders in a high rise apartment block with 20 to 30 other immigrants.

The trial continues.

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