TWO men accused of being part of a people-trafficking gang have been cleared by a jury which accepted their story that they were “unwitting stooges”.
Taxi drivers Mohammad Yaghoobi, 23, and Aref Yaghobi, 21, said they did not know they were travelling to the North-East to collect illegal immigrants.
They ferried two other men – Akbar Rehmani and Walliallam Zaheer – to the region from Liverpool to pick up six stowaways from Afghanistan and Iran.
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The four men were arrested after an alert passer-by contacted police when he saw the “cold and hungry” immigrants stealing apples from trees late at night.
Officers lay in wait for the convoy and detained them when they arrived at the Dalton Park shopping complex near Seaham, County Durham, last November.
Teesside Crown Court heard that one of the six asylum-seekers – who arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry – fled, but the others were held by police.
Zaheer has since been deported and 22-year-old Rehmani was yesterday found guilty of assisting the illegal entry of non-EU residents into the country.
The take-away worker was given bail with strict conditions and was told by Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, that he faces prison when he is sentenced.
Rehmani, of Galloway Street, Liverpool, must surrender his passport, report to police three times a week and observe a curfew from 8pm to 7am each day.
Judge Bourne-Arton ordered background reports on Rehmani and told him: “The fact I am doing that does not mean this will not be a case of prison.”
The two men who were cleared told the court during a week-long trial that they were simply doing Rehmani and Zaheer favours by driving them north.
A man walking home from the pub was asked by the stowaways to call their 'friend' and he was offered £2,000 to keep them hidden and nourished.
The passer-by bought them chocolate and drinks, but later called police to tell them he had seen people he thought “had escaped from the back of a lorry”.