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Pair arrested in operation targeting suspected people-smuggling gang

Two properties were searched as part of the operation (HomeOffice/PA)
Two properties were searched as part of the operation (HomeOffice/PA)

A man and a woman have been arrested in Northern Ireland in an operation targeting a suspected people-smuggling gang.

A 40-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man were arrested as around 50 officers from the Government’s Immigration Enforcement team and the Police Service of Northern Ireland searched two properties in Belfast.

The pair, both described as naturalised British citizens, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-UK nationals.

The woman was also arrested on suspicion of possession of criminal property.

They have been taken into custody in Musgrave Police Station for questioning.

The operation followed an investigation by the Home Office’s Criminal and Financial Investigations team. Two people have previously been arrested in connection with this investigation.

A man and a woman were arrested in Belfast as part of the investigation (HomeOffice/PA)

The British and Irish governments are working together through the Cross Border Joint Agency Taskforce to disrupt organised crime groups and tackle organised immigration crime, modern slavery and human trafficking.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “By working hand-in-hand with our Irish partners, we will continue to stop those who seek to abuse the Common Travel Area to enter the UK.

“People smugglers put lives in extreme danger and I hope these arrests act as a stark warning to criminal gangs that they will feel the full force of our tougher laws. Through our New Plan for Immigration, we can truly break their business model and suitably punish them for their callous crimes.”

Ben Thomas, deputy director for Immigration Enforcement criminal and financial investigations, said: “Today’s operation is just one of the ways we are working with our policing partners to take action against those who are attempting to bring people illegally into the country hidden in vehicles.

“We are committed to dismantling people-smuggling networks and hope these arrests send a clear message to those involved in this type of criminality that we will stop at nothing to bring you to justice.

“We will continue to work closely with law enforcement colleagues to save lives and ensure that people smugglers and traffickers face the consequences of their despicable crimes.”