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Lorry driver jailed in Belgium on smuggling charge

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Richie Woods

Richie Woods

Ken Finegan

Richie Woods

A Kilerkley lorry driver, Richard Woods has been jailed for four years in Belgium after a court heard how he was part of a human trafficking enterprise to bring people into the UK.

He was first arrested in October - days before the Essex lorry deaths - after 17 Albanians were found hidden in the back of his haulage at a port in Zeebrugge.

Prosecution documents show that the haulier was unable to provide documents showing who his employer was or who owned the haulage to Zeeebrugge. Despite this Woods was released after there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

However, investigators from the West Flemish Federal Judicial Police (FGP) tapped his phone and listened in on numerous conversations with criminal associates.

On the very same day he was arrested, theyheard Woods speak to multiple people, using alias names, about the people smuggling operation and the fact he knew the Albanians were inside the trailer.

The wire tapped calls on October 18 also revealed how he was due to pick up a second trailer, also filled with human-trafficking victims, in France.

By the time Belgian officers had dissected the information Woods had returned to his cottage in Cortial, Kilkerley.

But in January the 32-year-old was arrested in France on the foot of a European ArrestWarrant. He was transferred to custody in Belgium where he appeared before a criminal court.

Prosecutor Frank Demeester told a judge that in one telephone call to an associate, Woods spoke of his regret at having lost out on picking up a second people-packed trailer in France.

But Woods' lawyer called his client's wiretapped claims 'Irish humour' and 'nonsense', and asked for him to be acquitted.

However, the Bruges judge did not see the funny side, not only jailing the 32-year-old for four years, but also fining him €136,000. He will only have to pay a quarter of that, unless he commits further crimes.

The Argus