BORDER Agency officers discovered nine stowaways in a lorry bound for Dorset.

The would-be illegal immigrants were prevented from entering the country after UK Border Agency officers found them hiding inside a removals lorry in Calais.

Officers working in the French port examined a British-registered vehicle and on opening the doors found eight men from Afghanistan inside.

A more detailed search of the vehicle uncovered an Iranian man who was hiding deep within the load of personal effects and furniture.

The lorry was travelling from the Netherlands on its way to home addresses near Moreton and Fulham in London.

It is not yet known what the stowaways’ final destination was. Following the discovery the stowaways were handed over to the French border police and the vehicle was allowed to continue to its destinations.

However, the British driver and the haulage company now each face a potential fine of up to £2,000 per stowaway if they are unable to prove they took steps to secure the vehicle.

The agency has reported a dramatic reduction in the number of illegal migrants trying to smuggle themselves into the UK from Calais.

More than 24,000 illegal migrants were caught during the 12 months to September 2009 – over the following 12 months, the number was approximately 5,000.

The figures indicate the effect of closing the makeshift ‘jungle’ camp for illegal immigrants in Calais and closer co-operation with the French authorities.

Carole Upshall, the UK Border Agency Director for the South and Europe, said: “This incident shows why we base UK Border Agency staff in France.

“Our strong presence in French ports like Calais helps protect the whole of the UK.

“As well as carrying out manual searches of vehicles, we use sniffer dogs, heartbeat detectors and carbon dioxide probes to find people hiding in vehicles.