Six men have been found guilty of a conspiracy to smuggle migrants across the English Channel by boat in 2016.
The group – made up of British and Albanian men – were convicted of attempting to ferry predominantly Albanian nationals into the UK using rigid hull inflatable boats.
Wayne Bath, Sabah Dulaj, Arthur Nutaj, Albert Letchford, Leonard Powell and Alfie Powell were all found guilty at the Old Bailey.
At least 18 people were transported from near Calais to Dymchurch in Kent in dangerously overcrowded inflatable boats designed for six.
The investigation was led by the UK’s National Crime Agency, which carried out surveillance along with French authorities over four months from May 2016.
On 11 May 2016, an inflatable boat called “Rebel” was found abandoned on Dymchurch Beach.
It showed signs it had been used to ferry migrants, and contained personal belongings and vomit.
Border Force officers attended the scene and were told by Bath, who claimed to own the vessel, that he had experienced engine difficulties while night fishing.
An investigation was then launched by the NCA.
Had the men not been stopped by a NCA-led surveillance operation, they would have been the first to have tried to run migrants across the world’s busiest shipping route on jet skis.
Later that month, French police carried out surveillance at Cran d’Escalles beach near Calais, where they witnessed a group of people appearing to signal to a boat.
Headlights from a nearby car warned off the potential smuggling attempt while in Kent CCTV showed a group towing a boat to and from Dymchurch Beach.
The NCA monitored the Kent group as they launched a new boat, the “White Scanner”, into the sea to collect a group of 18 Albanian migrants.
As the vessel returned to Kent it got into difficulties around five miles off the British coast, with migrants captured on helicopter CCTV bailing out water.
The coastguard and Border Force rescued those on board.
Richard Davis was on Border Force cutter Valiant during the rescue.
“It was quite rough and choppy seas and the exposure to a bitterly cold easterly wind was a concern to me as two of the migrants were suffering from hypothermia,” he said.
“They seemed in a large amount of distress, there were a couple of minors on board between 16 and 18 and my priority was to save life at sea and that those migrants were taken on board Valiant safely and everyone taken into Dover and seek medical assistance.”
At the same time the group had been planning a rescue attempt using another inflatable boat which was later found abandoned and the 4×4 towing it set on fire.
In July 2016, the group obtained a larger vessel from Southampton.
NCA officers bugged the boat, hearing evidence of the group planning another migrant run across the Channel.
The men were arrested in August 2016 after planning to purchase a jet-ski to ferry migrants, a plan police described as “beyond reckless.”
NCA lead officer Mark McCormack told Sky News it was a high-value operation: “The crime group themselves, they spent in the region of twelve to twelve and a half thousand pounds per vessel that they purchased.
“They then charged the migrants in the region of about £6,000 which is what we’ve been told by the migrants themselves to be transported over to the UK.
“So we can see from 18 migrants at £6,000 a time that’s quite a lucrative business…so significant sums of money involved for the crime groups which is why they do it – making money and exploiting those individuals wanting to come to the UK.”
The NCA has more than 250 active investigations into people smuggling into the UK – in what is industry worth up £6bn worldwide.
From – SkyNews