Raids Target People Smugglers

Dozens of raids have been carried out across the UK, including in Hampshire, and in France and Belgium in a crackdown on people-smuggling gangs.

Officers from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) raided 35 addresses in England and Scotland, targeting gangs who bring illegal immigrants into the country in the back of lorries through Channel ports.

Heart's been told one raid was carried out in Fareham and another in Portsmouth.

Around another 40 raids were carried out at the same time in France and Belgium as part of the same operation. The stowaways pay from £2,000 to £6,000 per person to be smuggled into Britain.

Raids were carried out in Hampshire, London, Peterborough, Birmingham, Coventry, Smethwick, Leamington Spa, and Stoke-on-Trent. Warrants were also executed in Manchester, Sheffield, Lancashire and Glasgow.

More than 150 officers from the UKBA took part in the operation. It is understood many of the immigrants who pay the gangs are from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

So far, officers have made 20 arrests in relation to their investigation and another six in relation to other suspected offences including immigration breaches.

Chris Foster from UKBA said: ''We believe this to be one of the biggest operations of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, involving officers the length and breadth of the country.

My officers have been working closely with their counterparts in France and Belgium as well as other law enforcement agencies in the UK in the build-up to today's operation.

We believe we have successfully disrupted a significant organised network suspected of being involved in a systematic attempt to evade the UK's immigration controls. Our investigation will continue with the evidence we have seized today.''

Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, said: ''The organised criminal gangs involved in people-smuggling prey on the desperation of others in order to line their own pockets. They are also a major factor involved in illegal immigration to the UK.''