AN AFGHAN asylum seeker was found dead in a shipping container af - ter being sealed inside for more than 12 hours along with 34 other illegal im - migrants, a court has heard.

The Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were rescued from Tilbury Docks after port workers heard bang - ing noises and cries for help.

Two lorry drivers are standing trial accused of being in a people smuggling gang’s “inner circle” and face charges of helping sneak the immigrants into the UK.

The group was found in a cramped space on top of plastic barrels full of liquid, with condensation pouring from the ceiling.

Among them was Meet Singh Ka - poor, a 40-year-old who died during the overnight crossing from Zeebrugge in Belgium in August 2014.

Basildon Crown Court was told the refugees, believed to have fled Kabul in Afghanistan after allegedly suffer - ing persecution and living illegally in Belgium and France, were the “human cargo” of a “sophisticated internation - al organisation” of people smugglers.

Jurors heard Northern Irish lorry drivers Stephen McLaughlin, 36, and Martin McGlinchey, 49, were part of a team responsible for arranging the transport logistics of the operation.

They allegedly organised for the container to be sent from Dover to France so it could be picked up by an innocent man before being loaded with illegal immigrants on a Belgian industrial estate.

Prosecuting, Michael Goodwin told the court the plan was foiled when port workers in Tilbury heard the screams of those in the container.

After the operation was sprung, he said, McLaughlin, who is from Lima - vady, Londonderry, and McGlinchey, of Coalisland, Co Tyrone, frantically tried to cover their tracks, destroy - ing mobile phones and SIM cards that they believed might implicate them in the plan.

McGlinchey sold a car he thought could link him to two co- conspirators, Taha Sharif, and a man known only as “Kurd Eng”, while McLaughlin booked a short family holiday.

Mr Goodwin said the pair were moti - vated by financial gain, and the “very considerable risks” involved meant they would have made a lot of money if the plan had been successful.

He said: “The prosecution case is that both McLaughlin and McGlinchey were close and trusted associates and were working with Kurd Eng and Taha Sharif.”

The two men are facing a retrial, and deny conspiring to facilitate ille - gal entry into the UK between June 1 and September 5, 2014.

At the previous trial last year Sha - rif, a Kurd, was found guilty of the same charge while Timothy Murphy, who drove the container through Bel - gium and France, was found to be an “innocent dupe” and was acquitted. Kurd Eng remains at large.

The trial continues.