A Desborough lorry driver is facing a £2,000 fine after five immigrants were found hidden inside the cement mixer he was driving back to the UK.
Peter Clark, of Whitehill Road, Desborough, just seven miles from Market Harborough, works for Northampton haulage company E M Rogers.
The 54-year-old asked for a security check on his lorry after arriving in the UK because, he says, French customs officials were unable to check the mixer themselves because their ladder was locked away.
He has appealed against the fine, which states that he was stopped and checked randomly, but the appeal was overruled and he is now working with his employers to take the matter further.
Mr Clark said this week: “The problem with immigrants stowing away in lorries and trailers has been happening so much lately, with drivers being penalised while the immigrants essentially get off scot-free.
“We are just hard-working guys trying to do a job, but I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.”
At the time of the incident, which happened last September, Mr Clark had stopped overnight near Calais on the northern coast of France while on his way back from Italy with the mixer.
He said: “Because the mixer is on an open trailer, rather than a locked one, I was more worried than usual about its security, having stopped overnight in France.
“As I was unable to lock and seal it, as I normally would with any other trailer, I decided to ask for assistance to check the trailer load as I approached the immigration checkpoint at the Calais docks at about 5.30 in the morning.
“You can only access the mixer from the top with a ladder.
“But the French officials advised me that, because it was so early in the morning, they would not be able to check it because they had no torches and the ladder was locked up.
“I carried on and then asked UK border agents to check the trailer, and that’s when the clandestine entrants were found.”
Mr Clark said he believed the immigrants were later found to be Vietnamese.
He said: “I believe I took all reasonable precautions to prevent their access to the vehicle. I take the safety of myself, my vehicle, my trailer and the load I am carrying very seriously.
“I really don’t know what more I could have done.”
Rising levels of illegal immigration via lorries and containers crossing the border between France and the UK have left many unaware drivers with fines to pay.
A letter to Mr Clark from the UK Border Force has said that it will charge him £400 for each entrant found, and that his employer is liable.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We continue to strengthen the security of our borders to stop those who have no right to enter the UK. One element of this work is the ability of the Border Force to impose a penalty on any individuals or companies found to be carrying illegal immigrants.
“All drivers entering into the UK, including those entering from France, must take simple steps to avoid illegal immigrants boarding, such as ensuring the vehicle remains locked and that compartments are secured.
“Failure to take these steps and ensure an effective system of security is in place can result in a fine of up to £2,000 for each clandestine found to be on board.”
The official code of practice issued under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 gives information about how to secure vehicles against ‘clandestine entrants’.
But the majority of the advice is relevant only to closed trailers that can be locked or sealed shut, and Mr Clark argues that the advice does not apply to the trailer he was hauling at the time.