The French border town of Calais has become one of the epicentres of Europe’s migration crisis, as thousands of refugees cluster in the area in an attempt to illegally enter the UK.
As a result, lorries have become key targets for migrants in their bid to smuggle themselves out of France – with drivers claiming they are increasingly facing threats from gangs.
The fear of violence combined with the prospect of a £2,000 fine for every migrant stowaway found has prompted some hauliers to carry prohibited weapons on their journey into the UK.
Now, following a number of recent prosecutions, the courts are warning drivers who arm themselves that they face the real prospect of an immediate custodial sentence if caught – potentially the mandatory five-year minimum term for committing a firearms offence.
In one recent case, an international lorry driver was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment after admitting possessing a disguised firearm, a prohibited weapon and an offensive weapon.
He had been detained by UK border officers at the channel tunnel freight terminal in France and found in possession of a stun gun disguised as a torch, an extendable baton and pepper spray. He claimed he didn’t know that possession of the items was illegal in the UK and that he had them as protection against migrants trying to get into his lorry.
The sentencing judge found the driver’s fear for his safety constituted exceptional circumstances, allowing her to dismiss the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the disguised firearm offence. However, she did pass immediate, concurrent sentences of eight months’ imprisonment for each offence.
The judge warned there was a clear need to impose deterrent sentences for offences of this kind, which were becoming more and more frequent.
This week, an appeal saw the punishment reduced to a suspended sentence, after the driver successfully argued it was extremely unlikely he would commit further offences and highlighted his previous good character.
However, the court emphasised that for those illegally carrying prohibited weapons into the UK, an immediate custodial sentence is the likely outcome.
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