Source: Alamy

Concerns around driver safety and food waste linked to clandestine entrant incidents are growing

The number of lorry stowaways caught entering the UK is at its highest since 2019, exclusive Border Force data shows.

The number of people caught attempting to illegally enter the country in the backs of trucks in the first four months of 2024 rose to 621, nearly three times as many as the 266 clandestine entrants caught in the first four months of last year.

There were a total 163 recorded instances when a commercial vehicle was discovered to contain people – a 91% increase on the same period in 2023, which saw 85 cases.

Border Force data also showed the average number of people in each truck or van varied between three and five.

“HGVs are the vehicle of choice, as there are so many places to hide,” said Nick Caesari, CEO of transport training company Fleet Source. “Border Force can’t check every vehicle, and so the real number of clandestine entrants will be much higher.”

It comes amid heightened concern in the logistics sector of the impact of increasing numbers of clandestine entrant incidents on driver safety.

Fleet Source, which provides training for fmcg logistics partners like Wincanton and XPO Logistics, has recently launched a first-of-its-kind course to help HGV drivers safely respond to a stowaway situation.

Drivers will also be trained on how to avoid getting penalised by the government’s civil penalty scheme, which has seen many getting fines of thousands of pounds for unknowingly carrying migrants into the country.

The total number of stowaways detected trying to cross the UK border in 2023 was 931, which was already an increase of more than 50% on the year before (615), the Border Force data showed.

The number of instances when a commercial vehicle was discovered to contain clandestine entrants in 2023 was also up 2.7% at 306 versus the year prior (298).

Read more: Freight industry questions government cross-Channel stowaway figures

“We get regular reports from members who tell us this continues to happen,” said Road Haulage Association (RHA) public affairs manager Ashton Cull. “Unfortunately, gangs have been targeting trucks hours away from ports for a number of years.

“We always advise our member firms to continue to be vigilant and to report all incidents to the relevant authorities.”

He added: “We support all measures that protect the border, but we do not want firms and drivers who have done everything they reasonably can to be unfairly punished.”

The logistics sector has also warned of the amounts of food waste resulting from people infiltrating the back of commercial vehicles.

“Aside from the political and human challenge associated with clandestine infiltration, where people desperate to reach the UK are stowing away on trucks destined for the UK, the environmental and moral impact of wasted food is something that often gets overlooked,” said Dean Attwell, CEO of supply chain specialists Oakland International.

“Many brand owners or distributors quite rightly have concerns over food safety implications when unauthorised access to a vehicle has occurred.

“Delays in vehicle movements can also result in stock falling out of date rotation, leading to a similar food disposal outcome,” he added.

Read more: Lorry stowaways: what are the implications for food supply?

Oakland, which offers a service aimed at recovering goods in truck loads where people have hidden inside, estimate that more than 60,000 tonnes of good food goes to waste each year due to clandestine entrant incidents.

“Businesses have a moral responsibility to avoid throwing away good-quality food which could help reduce food poverty in the UK, and the associated environmental/carbon impact of harvesting, manufacturing, packaging and transporting food which then ends up in landfill or anaerobic digestion plants,” Attwell said.