Most of the time it’s the migrants or law enforcement agencies the TV news focuses on when dealing with the issue of migrant stowaways in Calais. But lorry drivers are caught in the middle, and that’s where we decided to focus our piece.
BBC video producer Tony Smith hit upon the idea of fitting a secret camera to a UK registered lorry, leaving it in Calais and seeing what happened. He spent a lot of time talking to the Road Hauliers Association, which sent out an email appealing for drivers to come forward to work with the BBC.
Tony thought Rob Mills from Northampton, an 18-year veteran driver would be a good bet. He was fined £1,000 at the end of last year, when two migrants were found in the back of his load of potatoes. His boss Barry Smith at BSI Transport thought it was a good idea too.
Barry didn’t want to leave a ‘proper’load of goods in the back in case migrants broke in and damaged it, but an empty truck wouldn’t appeal to stowaways, so we decided to fill the truck with wooden pallets. Tony then arranged to have a tiny camera fitted in the hold.
It took hours to install – it had to be in the right position to record as much of the back of the truck as possible, but unobtrusive so it wouldn’t be spotted right away by an intruder. The tiny infra-red camera also had to be positioned perfectly, because it would be recording in pitch-black conditions.
I drove over to Calais from Brussels with producer Heidi Van de Velde and met up with Tony, Barry, Rob and, very importantly, our security adviser Kevin Sweeney – in case some of the migrants turned nasty. We found a well-established lorry park near the port and left Rob’s vehicle there overnight, then parked up in another vehicle a few hundred yards away to watch what happened.
It wasn’t long before a group of migrants gathered around the back of the truck, spotting its UK licence plate. Pretty soon they opened the back door, but it wasn’t until we were able to view the footage the next day that we found one of the migrants had climbed in the back and had a good look around, but had decided not to stay.
The other pictures in our piece – of migrants staging a mass attempt to break into the port, and of other lorries being broken into – we gathered by staking out the port over a period of two days and nights. There were numerous other examples of break-ins we didn’t have time to fit into the five-minute piece.
When we arrived in Calais we spoke to some migrants at a soup kitchen. We found they were determined to try and get to the UK and start a new life. That’s why every day and night we were in Calais it was easy to film their attempts to stow away.