Discover more from The Mill
Undercover agents, sports cars and an Oldham flat: the fall of a people-smuggling kingpin
Plus: An Altrincham design studio tastes glory at the Oscars
Dear Millers — get yourselves inside and hunker down for the evening: the Met Office has issued a snow and ice warning for most of the North starting at 5pm and lasting until 10am tomorrow. “Rain, sleet and snow followed by ice is likely to cause some impacts to travel,” is the official word.
If you missed our weekend read, we spoke to Sir Graham Brady about his decision to step down from parliament and his plans to publish a book about his experiences at the centre of Conservative chaos. The piece also reflected on how Trafford is changing politically, with one person quoted saying: “The seat is fucked. That’s going to go for Labour.”
Last week, our members-only journalism included a great piece about the group who are trying to create a co-housing project for over-50s and a feature about why the country’s Supreme Court decamped to Manchester, which contained insights like this:
“Manchester’s growth as a legal centre is based on a long tradition. The legal system has its own ancient geography. England and Wales are divided into regions known as ‘circuits’ and Manchester has the honour of being the home of the Northern Circuit, which dates back to 1176 when King Henry II sent his judges out on circuit to administer justice in the provinces.”
This week’s members-only fare includes:
A visit to Factory International, the massive new venue by the Irwell.
Our look at what’s happening at Escape to Freight Island, the city centre venue that we used to describe as “buzzy” and we might now need to call “imperilled”.
And we watch the orchestra conductors of the future battle it out for a prestigious prize.
If you’re not a member yet, join us now for £7 a month to read all those members-only stories, get invited to our events and support the journalism we do. We’re agonisingly close to having 2,000 members — so please jump on board.
🌦 This week’s weather
This week’s forecast is from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says we’ll experience a brief cold snap, followed by much milder weather.
Monday 🌧️ Windy and wet with spells of heavy rain. Max 12C.
Tuesday 🌦 Windy with wintry showers of hail, sleet and snow. Sunshine between the showers will help to quickly thaw out any snow that accumulates. Max 5C.
Wednesday ⛅️ Sunny spells and light winds. Turning cloudier during the afternoon with rain arriving in the evening. Max 6C.
Thursday 🌦 Milder with outbreaks of heavy rain. Windy. Max 13C.
Friday 🌦 Mild, breezy and showery. Max 13C.
Weekend 🌦Remaining mild but unsettled conditions will continue.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook — daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
Home of the week
This five bedroom Victorian house in a quiet area of Fallowfield is on the market for £650,000, and has a fireplace, chandeliers and French doors opening out to a large garden.
The big story: The people smuggler on your doorstep
Top line: There was a marmalade dropper of a story in the Sunday Times this weekend, which reported on Tarik Namik, a 45-year-old people smuggler arrested earlier this year. He ran a continent-spanning crime gang from a flat in Oldham, reports David Collins, the paper’s northern editor. Namik’s group is said to have smuggled 20,000 people into the UK, with one source describing that as a “conservative estimate”.
Two lives: Namik ran a car wash in Stockport and was often seen at school drop-offs before heading to work. He and his wife have four children, and claimed working and child tax credits.
There were signs, however. The £500 Moncler jackets, and the steady rotation of new cars: a new BMW one week, then a lime green Range Rover the next.
Robin Hood: Namik, who had himself come to the UK from Iraq in the back of a lorry in 2001, thought of himself as a “Robin Hood” figure, apparently becoming a people smuggler to help reunite Kurdish women and children with fathers in the UK.
Ghent: Many of the people smuggled by Namik’s group were passed on from other gangs who had taken them, crammed in the holds of trawler ships, to Greece and Italy. After they reached Ghent, Belgium, one of Namik’s drivers would take them to the UK.
They were transported in the back of lorries or the wind deflector of the cabin roof.
One driver was promised £3,000 per person he got into the country.
The sting: In late 2017, undercover police from the National Crime Agency visited Namik’s car wash in Stockport. They chatted, and the agent returned a few months later. In the meantime, Namik was stopped at Manchester Airport. During a luggage search, his phone was taken and the data downloaded from it contained evidence of smuggling activity. He was let go.
The undercover officer then returned to the car wash and “confessed” to Namik that he was a freight agent, someone who organised goods to be transported by lorry. Namik then admitted: “I bring people over… from France”.
The undercover “freight agent” offered to help, and brought back another undercover officer, and they arranged to bring migrants to the UK for Namik from Ghent.
In the ensuing sting, Belgian police officers arrested two of Namik’s associates and found a 14-year-old boy in the back of the lorry.
Namik was later arrested, then released on bail, which gave him the opportunity to flee the country using a different passport. He didn’t turn up to his court date, and was given an eight year sentence in his absence. Then, after two months on the run, he handed himself in.
Bottom line: Around 10,000 migrants a year are thought to enter the UK in lorries. While this is fewer than those crossing the channel in small boats, it is likely to rise if the government successfully cracks down on Channel crossings. Plus: tighter security means migrants are being picked up further away from ports, and so are spending more time in lorries and putting themselves at greater risk.
Go deeper: Read our 2021 story about Ahmed, an asylum seeker from Sudan who described in detail what it was like to get into the country in the back of a lorry.
Your Mill briefing
What next for devolution? Insightful reporting from the Local Democracy Reporting Service breaks down exactly what new powers Andy Burnham wants from the government as part of the upcoming “trailblazer” devolution deal. First off: skills. Burnham says they are the “missing piece of the puzzle”, and wants more influence over the region’s labour market — offering alternatives to apprenticeships, A Levels and degrees, to help boost social mobility. He also wants control of the region’s 98 local railway stations, whose decrepit conditions he says are indicative of the broader issues in the industry. The ongoing negotiations with the government also include points about landlord licensing and funding streams.
Escape to Freight Island, the very big food and drink venue near Mayfield Depot, sent a letter to staff last week to inform them they were terminating their contracts. In fact the letter said they were “excited to inform them” that — due to them handing their bar services to another company — they were terminating their contracts. The oddly cheery letter has been panned online, and we’re now speaking to a collection of ex-staff, insiders and hospitality soothsayers about just what on earth is going on at Freight Island. If you’ve got any tips, info, or know someone who has just had their contract terminated, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liberal Democrats in Trafford want to force a vote on Places for Everyone (PfE), Greater Manchester’s much-discussed plan for where we should be building houses, offices and much more. PfE spans nine of GM’s ten boroughs (Stockport already dropped out), and after housing target changes last year, there was talk earlier this year of other councils having cold feet. Now, the Lib Dems in Trafford want a vote on whether to remain part of the plan, focussing on the development on green belt spaces like Timperley Wedge, a swathe of land where 2,500 houses could be built under PfE.
Oscars latest: That’s right, we have Oscars news. Last night, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio won Best Animated Feature and, as it happens, the models for the stop-motion adaptation were made in Altrincham. Design studio Mackinnon & Saunders built dozens of the film’s characters, with its team of 62 working on the project for four years.
The Met Office has issued an urgent weather warning for snow and ice. The warning will be in place from 5pm to 10am tomorrow.
Our favourite reads
Northern airs and graces — Vittles
In this essay, the writer Ophira Gottlieb talks about her memories of eating Eccles Cakes and reading working-class poetry about regional food traditions in bookshops in the North. “Northern dialects, like northern food, are a thing to be celebrated and nurtured,” she writes. “They are the sacred relics of a culture that took what little it had and made something remarkable out of it, something beautiful — or else something delicious.”
Why a new maid cafe is causing a ruckus — The Guardian
“What fresh hell is this in Manchester?” tweeted local councillor Joanne Harding last month, after she noticed a “no touching” policy on the window of a cafe called Animaid in Afflecks, where young women dress up like maids and call customers “master”. This opinion piece takes a look at the arguments for and against such cafes. “I suspect the truth about Animaid isn’t black or white but has some nuance. Terribly inconvenient when that happens.”
An undercover investigation at a wellness retreat in Stockport finds that a shaman is prescribing ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic drug, to “mostly middle-class professionals” who pay £800 to attend. “You’ve all got buckets,” said Chris Hargreaves, who runs the retreat alongside his girlfriend, Rebecca Stewart, warning everyone the drugs would make them vomit. “The purge from ayahuasca is really nice. You’re going to want to fill your buckets.”
Our to do list
🗣️ Sergei Nikitin, a former head of Amnesty International in Russia who escaped Putin’s regime and now lives in Yorkshire, working as a translator for Ukrainian refugees, will be asking whether human rights still exist in Russia at a sweeping talk in Manchester Central Library this evening from 6pm. The event is free, and there’s no need to book.
🎧 Gigi Masin, an Italian ambient artist best known for minimalist, expressive compositions using synths, is performing at intimate gig in The Blues Kitchen. Tickets are £18.
📜 The Merchant of Venice starts at HOME this week, with Tracy Ann-Oberman taking the lead as a Jewish matriarch fighting against fascists in 1930s London. All the reviews suggest it’s a powerful production, “slickly paced” and “potent”, while showing the characters “afresh” in a different context and era. Get tickets while you can.
🎸 The Dream Syndicate, a 1980s four-piece from Los Angeles who found their success playing sunny Californian rock blended with lyrics inspired by Bob Dylan’s poetry, are playing at Band on the Wall. Tickets here.
🎭 Noughts & Crosses, a Romeo and Juliet story about a young couple who fall in love across racial divides, is showing at Oldham Coliseum this week. It will be one of the Coliseum’s last shows before they close at the end of the month, so show them some support while you still can. Tickets here.
🎥 the one who was standing apart from me, a new exhibition by the artist Greig Burgoyne, features photographs and videos of performance artists acting out poses in LS Lowry paintings, surrounded by blank space. Intrigued? It’s showing at The Lowry until April, and it’s free to visit.
📷 Last chance to see the British Culture Archive’s Celebration of Life in the North exhibition at Bury Art Museum, which features black and white documentary photographs of Northern communities in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s free.
📚 Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s joyful, hopeful story of four sisters growing up during the American Civil War, is on tour at Waterside Arts in Sale. What makes it even more compelling? In this production, all the characters in the story, and there are many, are played by just one woman. Tickets here.
🎹 We love the late night jazz gigs at Matt & Phred’s, this city’s answer to cosy Parisian jazz clubs, which are usually free, and book a range of improvisational and impressive musicians. This Thursday, Sheffield pianist Dave Burgoyne (no relation to the above Burgoyne, who is from Scotland) is performing with the house band. More here.
🎙️ Female-fronted vintage gospel music might not sound like the kind of music you’d expect to come out of Chorlton, best known for its ageing indie rockers, but we think Canter Semper might be the more interesting out of the two. Blending soulful harmonies with jazz and blues, expect a stirring and emotional performance. They’re singing at the Carlton Club in Whalley Range from 7pm.
At a loose end this weekend? Want to know how best to treat someone on Mother’s Day? To be in the know about the places to be and the places to miss in Manchester, read our insider’s guide every Thursday by hitting the button below to join us as a member.