A MAN has been jailed for seven and a half years after a court heard he used a hand car wash as a front for a lucrative £12,000 per person people smuggling operation.

Sangar Khalid Mohammed, 32, of Greytree Road, Ross-on-Wye, ran the criminal network transporting desperate migrants to the UK on under-the-radar dawn flights and in secret ’hides’ on vans.

He is also suspected of putting them to work as ’cheap labour’ at his car wash in the Symonds Yat/Whitchurch area.

But an investigation by the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit led to his downfall, after officers uncovered that the car wash was a front for a vast criminal enterprise, while he was also supplying Class A drugs.

Worcester Crown Court heard on Friday (November 5) that Mohammed charged desperate non-EU migrants a small fortune - £12,000 each - to bring them to the UK on flights into remote airfields and hidden in van compartments.

Officers joined forces with the regional Home Office Immigration Criminal & Financial Investigation team to crack the case, after a phone found on a van carrying illegal immigrants at a French port was linked to the car wash three years ago.

A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: "Enquiries revealed Mohammed was working with Hems as part of a widespread smuggling conspiracy.

"In September 2018 a VW van owned by Hems was stopped by French police in Dunkirk with three migrants on board.

"The driver and passenger, both British nationals, were later jailed in France and a phone found in the van was linked to the car wash run by Mohammed.

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"It was discovered that Hems, from Rye Croft in Hollywood, regularly flew between the UK and Amiens, France, in 2018 on suspected smuggling trips to countryside air fields.

"Flight data showed he landed at Church Farm airfield near Banbury on September 8 before taking off again for Birmingham Airport.

"Phone enquiries showed Mohammed had been near the A40 landing strip at the timeâ?¦

"Three migrants were also recovered from a purpose-built hide in a van, part-owned by Mohammed, which was stopped by UK Border Force in France on April 12, 2019.

"The driver - convicted and jailed in France - had been in phone contact with Mohammed during the journey.

"Mohammed was then arrested in Symonds Yat on October 17, 2019, at the same time that seven Kurdish migrants, including a child, were being transported under his remote orders to Ghent in Belgium.

"They thought it was the start of a journey that would see them cross The Channel - but instead police were lying in wait to intercept the van after ROCU and immigration enforcement worked with the Belgian authorities to lay a trap.

"The driver - convicted and jailed in France - had been in phone contact with Mohammed during the journey."

Mohammed and Hems both admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, with Mohammed also admitting drugs supply.

Hems was jailed for two and a half years and has also lost his pilot’s licence.

Sentencing both, Judge Martin Jackson told the smugglers: "Both of you were involved in a conspiracy to bring immigrants illegally in to this country.

"This was a conspiracy to bring migrants in by a variety of different methods of transport - by plane, by vehicle, by boat.

"Mr Mohammed, you were actively recruiting others to take part in these activities.

"It’s quite clear from the recorded conversations with undercover police officers that you were the one who took the lead.

"In your case Mr Hems, you were much younger. It’s something of a tragedy you have thrown away your pilot’s licence."

Detective Inspector Julie Woods from West Midlands ROCU said: "This was a great piece of joint working between ourselves, immigration and the Belgian Police to bring down an established people smuggling gang.

"Mohammed and Hems were making big money on the plight and desperation of migrants while we also believe some were being put to work as cheap labour at Mohammed’s hand car wash."

Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, Tom Pursglove, said: "Both of these individuals showed a blatant disregard for the laws of the UK, for which they have all now rightly paid the price.

"We are determined to clamp down on despicable people smugglers that put profit before lives by organising dangerous and unnecessary journeys.

"This is why we are bringing legislation forward through the New Plan for Immigration to dismantle these people smuggling networks and save lives."