A jet ski cross-Channel people smuggling gang are facing jail after being caught out by undercover agents.
The “incompetent” group charged £6,000 to smuggle migrants from Calais into Britain but their profound lack of sailing experience led to repeated failures.
The National Crime Agency warned that such gangs put migrants’ lives at “real risk”.
Mark McCormack, NCA senior investigator, said: “We have people controlling vessels with no maritime experience, no sailing experience, who have completed very rudimentary courses of one or two days, trying to cross this busy shipping channel at night in a small vessel not utilising lights or radar.”
One gang member was seen trying to put a French postcode into his GPS system and one boat did “circular pirouettes and was under the bow of a number of container ships” before being rescued.
At least 18 people were transported from Calais to Dymchurch, Kent, in dangerously overcrowded rigid-hulled inflatable boats designed for six.
When the RHIBs got into trouble, ran out of fuel and had to be rescued, the gang hit upon the idea of using a three-person jet ski.
Had their plans not been thwarted by the police surveillance operation, they would have been the first to have tried to run migrants across the world’s busiest shipping route on jet skis.
Six men from the Kent-based transport gang and their Albanian “travel agents” were convicted of people-smuggling following a trial at the Old Bailey.
The court heard that migrants, including men, women and children, were charged up to £6,000 each to journey across the Channel.
On one occasion, the gang sailed their White Scanner RHIB over to Calais and picked up 18 migrants, including two teenagers.
On the return journey, they ran out of fuel and the migrants were forced to start baling out as it flooded with sea water.
The terrified group sent desperate text messages, with one saying: “We are in England, tell police, we are drowning.”
A Coastguard helicopter and RNLI rescue operation was launched and one woman was found suffering from hypothermia.
The White Scanner’s two-man crew of Mark Stribling, 35, from Farningham, Kent, and Robert Stilwell, 33, from Dartford, Kent, were jailed in July 2016.
But the gang was undeterred. When operations to rescue their boat failed, they purchased another larger boat from Southampton, known as The Boat With No Name.
The NCA planted a bug on the boat to listen in as the gang plotted their next migrant run and secretly filmed them meeting their Albanian partners in a pub car park.
The group went to buy a jet ski with a view to using it to transport migrants but the NCA moved in to arrest them over safety fears.
The ringleaders were Leonard Powell, from Dartford and his son Alfie, 39, of no fixed abode.
Another son, George Powell, had already admitted his part in the conspiracy.
The Powells, Wayne Bath, 38, from Sheerness, Kent, Sabah Dulaj, 23, of no fixed abode, Albert Letchford, 42, from Dartford and Arthur Nutaj, 39, from north London, were all found guilty of conspiring to breach immigration law.
While jet skis have been used to smuggle drugs and contraband from North Africa to Spain or Gibraltar, it has never before been attempted in the Channel.
Brendan Foreman, NCA regional head of investigations, said: “These men were involved in a staggeringly reckless plot to bring migrants to the UK illegally and in a highly dangerous manner.
“They were prepared to risk lives for the sake of profit, treating people as a commodity to ship across the world’s busiest shipping lane using small boats and even a jet ski.
“Were it not for the intervention of the NCA, Border Force and other agencies involved in this operation, including the Coastguard and RNLI, I am certain there would have been tragic consequences.”
Judge Mark Dennis QC adjourned sentencing until a date to be fixed.
Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/07/jet-ski-people-smuggling-gang-face-jail-police-foil-bungled/