A RUTHLESS gang smuggled vulnerable people into the UK on lorries.

Ringleaders Alan Hoger and Goran Ahmed led the operation from Hastings and St Leonards, with help from members in Brighton, Eastbourne, and elsewhere.

They exploited people from Iraq and Kurdistan, forcing them to pay as much as £10,000 to enter the country.

Detectives investigating the case said: “Their only concern was their profit margins.”

Those seeking to make the trip would be squashed into lorry wind deflectors or underneath the trailer of the vehicles.

If successful, they would be taken to meet members of organised crime groups at a special meeting point.

But after a two-year investigation, the gang was brought to justice by officers from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (Serocu).

After several trials at Woolwich Crown Court, the gang members were jailed for a total of 45 years.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve May said: “This gang took advantage of their links to the Middle East to exploit vulnerable people for financial gain, with no concern about putting their lives in danger.

“They targeted the Kurdish community and looked to make as much profit out of every individual they could exploit. Their only concern was their profit margins.

“They set up an elaborate network of contacts to facilitate their work, which was uncovered by our officers and assisted by our colleagues in a number of police forces and agencies.

“We are pleased that the seriousness of this offending has been recognised by the sentences imposed by the courts.

“This case should serve as a clear warning to those involved in people trafficking people.

“Be in no doubt, we have an extensive investigative network and range of tactics to combat such criminal activity. We will seek them out and bring them before the courts.”

Hoger, 33, of Kenilworth Road, St Leonards, was found guilty of four counts of conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration and one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property.

He was the leader, and was sentenced to a total of ten years in prison.

His wife Kveta Conkova, also of Kenilworth Road, helped with money laundering and was found guilty of one count of converting criminal property.

She was sentenced to three years and six months imprisonment.

Ahmed, 34, of Farley Bank, Hastings, was found guilty of four counts of conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration and one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property.

He was the second in command and was jailed for a total of eight years.

Meanwhile, Arie Ali, 27, of Ashton Rise, Brighton, was part of the support network.

Ali was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration to the UK, and jailed for three years.

Eastbourne gang members Alan Salam and Susan Mohammed, of The Rookery, were both also jailed.

Salam, 35, was guilty of converting criminal property, perverting the course of justice, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

He was jailed for four years and three months.

Mohammed, 36, was guilty of perverting the course of justice and jailed for four months.

Serocu officers said £144,000 in cash was seized from the gang. Seven other members were jailed.