Three men jailed in two cases of smuggling Albanians into the UK

Boat in the sea Image copyright Home Office
Image caption The rigid-hulled inflatable boat had started to sink off Dymchurch, Kent, with 18 Albanians and the two people smugglers on board

Two men have each been jailed for more than four years for smuggling 18 Albanian migrants into the UK.

They were caught when the group, including two children, were rescued from their sinking inflatable boat a mile-and-a-half off Kent in May.

Immigration officials said the Albanians were "in a perilous state" and facing potential death.

In a separate case, another man was jailed after 17 Albanians were discovered at Chichester Marina.

Each of the migrants rescued from Kent had paid 6,000 euros (£5,000) to make the trip across the Channel.

Humans treated as cargo

David Fairclough led the Home Office's Immigration Enforcement team investigating both cases.

Referring to the smugglers at Dymchurch, he said: "Human beings were being treated as a commodity, as cargo. They were not provided with life jackets, brought across the busy shipping lanes in the world, at night," he said.

"But for the timely intervention of the coastguard and a Border Force cutter, we could have been facing potential loss of life."

'Massive network' to smuggle migrants

Image copyright Home Office
Image caption Robert Stilwell and Mark Stribling were caught smuggling 18 Albanians into the UK on a small boat.

At Maidstone Crown Court, Robert Stilwell, 33, a former judo champion from Greenhithe, Kent was jailed for four years and four months.

Mark Stribling, 35, from Farningham near Swanley, Kent was jailed for four years and eight months.

Both had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration into the UK.

The court was told they were hired by others and paid £2,000 each to make the trip.

They initially told the authorities they had been fishing and had rescued the migrants.

'Would have died'

The UK coastguard sent a rescue helicopter and two lifeboats after the migrants alerted their families in Calais that their boat - a rigid-hulled inflatable - was taking in water.

The rescue took around one-and-a-half hours in conditions described as "difficult.. a mid-to-rough sea swell and moderate to poor visibility".

Prosecutor Nina Ellin told the court that some of the migrants "believe if they had been 10 more minutes on that boat they would have died."

Kris Venkatasami, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Not long after leaving France, the battery appears to have failed on the boat and water started flooding in, leaving those on board to frantically try to bail it out as fast as they could."

Five of the 18 claimed asylum, the others were removed from the UK.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Albanians were found in the English Channel

Sentencing Stilwell and Stribling, Judge Jeremy Carey said: "This case shows the best and the worst of human characteristics.

"On the part of the rescue services, a real and conspicuous devotion to duty and at considerable risk to themselves.

"On your part, greed, recklessness and deceit and the desire to get easy money.

"In the event, there was a rescue and those who were rescued should be very grateful, as you should be to those who came to your aid.

"A tragedy was averted by a whisker."

Image copyright Home Office
Image caption Stephen Jackson, 51, was caught at Chichester Marina when his yacht was boarded by police enforcing an arrest warrant.

In a separate case, Stephen Jackson, 51, of West Wittering, West Sussex, was jailed for four years and nine months for smuggling 17 Albanians into the UK.

He pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration by sailing a boat carrying men aged 20 to 44 into Chichester Marina a few days earlier.

'Caught red-handed'

Judge Guy Antony told Jackson he was "caught red-handed" with the migrants in his yacht when he was seized under a European Arrest Warrant.

Jackson is wanted in Spain in connection with a murder investigation.

Police there are investigating the disappearance of 32-year-old Scot Lisa Brown, an expat originally from Alexandria in West Dunbartonshire.

As Jackson sailed into Chichester marina, police were waiting to enforce the arrest warrant.

The discovery of 17 immigrants during a search of Jackson's catamaran came as a surprise to the authorities.

Image caption Prosecutors said Chichester Marina in West Sussex had no border controls
Image caption Yachsman Stephen Jackson,51, was caught by police after lock gates closed at Chichester Marina.

As his yacht sailed into the single lock at the marina entrance, the gates closed and he was cornered.

Jackson told investigators he felt forced into sailing the Albanians into Britain after discovering them on board the boat.

In a later interview, he admitted he had been given the boat in exchange for smuggling the men into the UK.

'Very overloaded'

Another skipper at the marina, Tim Aylett, told the BBC the eight-hour channel crossing of at least 100 miles from Le Havre would have been risky.

He said: "It had to be very low in the water, it was definitely very overloaded. I am sure it was dangerous to have that many people on board."

Mr Fairclough said Jackson was "seeking to profit from the desperation of others to reach the UK" and his case served as a warning to anyone tempted to get involved with this kind of crime.

The Home Office said the process for securing an extradition to Spain was under way.

All but one of the migrants have since been sent home, nine were initially jailed for entering the UK illegally. The other is set for an extradition hearing on 10 August.

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