NINE stowaways hiding in a South Lakeland-bound lorry have been stopped from entering the country.

The UK Border Agency said the Iranian men were on their way to Ulverston when they were discovered by a sniffer dog and officers at Calais ferry port in Northern France.

The nine were refused entry to the UK and were handed over to the French frontier police.

Meanwhile the Polish driver and the firm he works for now face fines if they are found to have taken inadequate steps to check the lorry’s load.

It is the latest illegal immigration arrest relating to Cumbria.

Several people were arrested earlier this year following a call from MPs to crackdown on illegal migrants.

Community stalwarts in Ulverston showed empathy with the plight of those who felt forced to flee their home countries, but agreed that illegal immigration was unacceptable in any situation.

Ulverston mayor Coun Phil Lister said: “It is very regrettable that people are forced to behave in this way and find themselves in situations where they have to put themselves at risk, but I am glad the Border Agency has found them and turned them back.

“I say this because, if they were coming to Ulverston, the town has problems of its own with unemployment, and these problems would have been exacerbated by those illegally taking work that should be available legitimately for Ulverston people.

“It is also not good for community cohesion for people to be in the community who are under the radar.

"Illegal immigrants are not protected themselves and have no access to medical care.”

Ralph Spours, chair of Ulverston Traders’ Association, said: “It does amaze me that people would pick Ulverston.

"I can understand London or Liverpool, where they could be lost in the crowd, but in a place like Ulverston you would be immediately noticed.

“It just shows the plight of these unfortuates that they still see England as a place to go to.

"It is obviously preferable to where they come from, despite the fact people are moaning about the cuts in this country.

Joel Rasbash, equalities and cohesion manager for Cumbria County Council, said illegal immigration contributed to less than one per cent of the black and minority ethnic population in the county.

“The vast majority of immigrants are here legally and they make a positive contribution to Cumbrian economy,” he said.

Earlier this month two illegal immigrants - a Malaysian man and woman - were arrested following a UK Border Agency raid at the Jade Apple Restaurant in Appleby, while a Chinese man and woman were arrested for the same offence at Regent Court Restaurant, Workington, and two Bangladeshi men at Indian Spice, Whitehaven.

And, also in December, Mohammed Hifzuil Rahman, 46, the owner of three restaurants in Grange-over-Sands, Sedbergh and Keswick was warned he could go to prison after pleading guilty to employing seven men who were in breach of immigration laws. He will be sentenced in January.

Back in July a crackdown on illegal workers in Cumbria saw nine people arrested - seven at the British Raj, in Ulverston, and four at The Prince of India in Windermere Officers also questioned five workers at Amber Court Chinese restaurant in Grange and five at the Anamika Indian restaurant in Cleator Moor.

Employing an illegal worker can lead to a fine of £10,000 per worker for the business.

The UK Border Agency’s regional director for border force south and Europe, Carole Upshall said: “This discovery shows how the UK Border Agency’s strong presence, not only in the UK but also in northern France, helps protect the whole country from people illegally entering the UK.

“As well as using sniffer dogs we use heartbeat detectors and carbon dioxide probes to find people hiding in vehicles.

"In 2009 we stopped over 29,000 individual attempts to cross the channel illegally and searched over one million freight vehicles.”

Eddy Montgomery, Operations Director of the UK Border Agency in the North West, said: “Illegal working has a serious impact on communities, taking jobs from those who are genuinely allowed to work.

"Businesses which operate outside the law should be warned that they will be found and they will be punished.”