UK Border Force PA

Haulage firms and their drivers who unwittingly transport migrants into the UK inside their vehicles should not be fined until the chaos at Calais is rectified, according to a law firm.

Moore Blatch said drivers and their employers were facing a health and safety issue fuelled by intimidation, personal violence and a threat of fines looming over them by “civil servants sitting in Whitehall”.

It said truck drivers were in an increasingly impossible situation, risking injury when tackling migrants, or fines for ignoring them.

“This is a Catch-22 situation for the hauliers and drivers, many of whom have to cross the borders several times a week – some even daily,” said David Thompson, managing partner at Moore Blatch.

“Either they risk a hefty fine by the [Border Force] for every illegal migrant caught hiding in their vehicle, or they risk their lives confronting determined migrants. It is all very well for politicians and civil servants sitting in Whitehall setting out these regulations, but we have to recognise that, in reality, if a driver is threatened physically at the point of embarkation, the driver may have little choice but to commit the offence. ”

The law firm is also urging the government to revisit its advice to lorry drivers, which suggests calling the local police each time a migrant is spotted in, under or on a vehicle, branding it “clearly unsustainable”.

The RHA said international hauliers should seek accreditation with Border Force, which demonstrates they are following its code of practice.

Chief executive Richard Burnett added: “The broader issue of migrants is a complete nightmare for our members. We again call on the French government to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that migrants are separated from lorries in the Calais area; and we call on the UK government to support that more strongly in its dealings with the French government.”

The Home Office said most hauliers took their responsibility for vehicle security seriously, but that Border Force estimates that a third of HGVs arriving in the UK do not have basic standards of security.

A spokeswoman said: “The purpose of the civil penalty regime is to ensure that all drivers are taking reasonable measures to stop migrants from boarding their lorries.

"Drivers who can show they have taken appropriate steps to secure their vehicles will not receive a penalty. Only seven per cent of the penalties issued last year were to British drivers so we must ensure the rest of the world's freight transport industry is being as vigilant.”

Last month, MT sister title-Commercial Motor revealed that operators could have paid up to £10m in fines last year after more than 39,000 attempts to cross the Channel by stowaways were detected, an increase from £4.2m in 2013/14.

Image: Press Association