Solicitors Smith Bowyer Clarke (SBC) said it was currently dealing with 10 cases per week where hauliers were seeking legal advice after receiving fines for having stowaways inside their vehicles.

It comes as vehicle security firm TrailerLock warned that attempts to stowaway inside unsecure trailers had increased due to the significant rise in unaccompanied freight amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Motor Transport has highlighted several cases where illegal immigrants were discovered hidden inside HGV trailers this year.

In one incident, 18 people were rescued from the back of a refrigerated lorry near Peterborough by police.

Simon Clarke, SBC solicitor said: “We have around 10 new instructions per week where hauliers are seeking to appeal against the imposition of penalties for clandestine entrants running into the tens of thousands of pounds.

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“In some cases, having to pay these penalties would mean the company going out of business.

“We are well used to dealing with penalties in the range of £20,000 to £40,000; we have just closed one case where a haulier had imposed against him a £68,000 penalty, reduced by us on appeal to £20,000.”

Clarke urged firms to secure their trailer doors and he added: “Drivers may be vigilant in checking their vehicles; however, thousands of illegal immigrants hide inside trucks heading for the UK each year.

“Despite Border Force accepting that a driver and haulier have no idea that the illegal immigrants were inside the truck, penalties will be imposed.”

TrailerLock said that according to government figures, over one million trailers travelling between GB to Europe were now classed as unaccompanied and the risk of thefts and clandestine entrants had risen as a result.

Earlier this year, Rotheras solicitor Chris Powell criticised a policy change by the police to automatically treat HGV drivers as suspects in a criminal investigation when stowaways are found on board.