A TV producer who oversaw the successful smuggling of people into the UK has said border security is an “illusion”.
David Modell said tighter checks at points of entry could have prevented the deaths of 39 people found in a shipping container in Essex.
The producer worked on the new Channel 4 series Smuggled, which tasks members of the public with entering the UK without documentation in an experimental test of border security.
To the shock of participants and the production team, four separate methods of entering the country were successful, with little or no interference from authorities on the continent or in the UK.
Mr Modell believes the Essex deaths have highlighted a porous border which allows “anything and anyone” to cross it with the right preparation.
Smuggled was initially pulled from broadcast due to events in Grays, Essex, but producers were keen to air the programme to publicise security weaknesses, despite the Home Office criticising the timing of the series’ release as “insensitive”.
Mr Modell told the PA news agency: “Border security is just an illusion.
“We all believe that there is some sort of border security, but actually border security doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way. It’s just a belief in it that causes it to exist.”
He said the Home Office appeared to be concerned that the series was “undermining the myth” of secure borders
In the first instalment of Smuggled, a stowaway grandmother makes it into the UK, along with other members of the public using a friend’s passport, hiding in a lorry cabin, and taking a dinghy across the Channel. Their relatively unsophisticated ploys were not noticed by Border Force or authorities on the continent.
One participant, Carolynne, said in the first episode: “At the start of this we thought, ‘This isn’t going to be easy’. The reality? We sailed through.”
Mr Modell believes the laxity of border security could have led to the tragedy in Essex, where 31 men and eight women, believed to be Vietnamese nationals, were found dead in a shipping container.
He said: “We felt it’s actually important that we do get the programme out as quickly as possible. You really do get an insight into how on earth the tragedy in Essex could have happened.
“The bodies weren’t discovered in a truck because the truck was stopped by Border Force. Had the truck been stopped by Border Force, the people may have survived. The truck had successfully made it into the country.
“We show quite conclusively in the programme that if you’ve got a bit of resources, a bit of planning, you can get pretty much anything and anyone into the country.”
Modell said the timing of the series release is not insensitive as it is important the public are shown the reality of border security, which he believes bears no resemblance to its portrayal by politicians.
He said there should be a national debate on border controls, with an election in December looming.
He said: “It’s something all parties should tackle. We show clearly that border security is not operating as advertised.
“There is something properly wrong if you’re expecting borders to function as politicians say they function. The politicians say our borders are secure, and that is clearly not the case.”
Producers travelled with each party attempting to smuggle themselves into the UK, and filmed each journey with secret cameras.
The first episode of Smuggled airs on Monday on Channel 4 at 9pm.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Hundreds of thousands of people enter the UK each week, so Border Force’s work is intelligence-led, targeting criminals who seek to break our laws.
“All of the individuals in this programme were British passport holders and therefore were not committing any criminal offence.
“Whenever there is reason to suspect criminality, we carry out rigorous checks to stop illegal immigration and smuggling, as evidenced by over 50,000 detections and refusals at the border last year.”