Comment: Horse transporters too easy prey at ports

Immigration seems to be a hot topic at the moment. What I didn’t realise was the problem of illegal immigration had escalated to levels way beyond our control. A worrying thought with the Ebola crisis clutching at the coat tails of Europe.

I had heard of an elderly couple who, having arrived home from a caravanning holiday in France, had virtually died of shock to find a stowaway asleep in their two berth tourer. Rather like a surrogate Goldilocks there was half eaten food left on the table as he snored in their bed.

Recently it seems horseboxes have been targeted. Whilst eating lunch at the sales recently I was chatting to some horse transporters who treated me to ‘confessions of a truck driver’ half hour. It was enlightening to say the least.

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One driver told me he regularly ships thoroughbreds to and from Europe for clients. It was on a recent trip he and the groom found themselves in a worrying position.

After dropping off some horses in Germany they were returning to the UK with a highly strung youngster and some racing ponies. Normally the company uses the ferry crossing from Cherbourg which, while more expensive, is less disruptive than Calais. This particular day, due to the temperamental cargo, the driver had booked a Calais to Dover crossing to save time.

All horses being transported are regularly checked, watered and fed, cutting down on the risk of shipping fever which is potentially fatal when the animal is in a stressed situation for a prolonged period.

Arriving at Calais the driver and his groom were met by a bottleneck of waiting vehicles and cargo lorries which had been delayed due to rioting by migrants at the port, a common occurrence.

As the transporter had a difficult youngster to soothe whilst parked up for two hours waiting, he’d left one of the side doors in the 10-stall horsebox unlocked to allow speedy access in case it grew restless.

“There are gangs of immigrants who roam around the port,” the driver explained. “They start rioting to cause delays and distract the police and border control. Once that happens they can be sneaked on whilst everyone is busy. They even unscrew panels to squeeze people in to tack lockers.”

Horseboxes are easy pickings with handlers in and out checking their animals constantly. All vehicles must go through a heartbeat scanner before loading which makes carrying illegals a near impossible task, you’d expect.

When eventually the ship docked at Dover the driver set off on his first port of call four hours down the road. It was late evening by the time he pulled up at the customer’s yard. Dropping the ramp they were shocked to find four faces looking back at them, squeezed in next to the pony.

The stowaways had paid fortunes to an organised gang to get them in to the UK and claimed to have travelled from Africa

“What did you do?” I asked.

“The fine for a wagon operator is £2,000 for each illegal found. What would you do? I ended up giving them a few quid, took them to the outskirts of a city, piped my horn and out they jumped,” he said.

“I wasn’t going to turn round, drive back four hours to hand them in and get fined £8,000.”