Wednesday 26 June 2019

Gang plotted to carry migrants across Channel on jet-skis

Smuggler George Powell
Smuggler George Powell

Emily Pennink

Bungling people-smugglers behind a hare-brained scheme to bring migrants across the English Channel to the UK on jet-skis are facing jail.

At least 18 people were transported from near Calais to Dymchurch in Kent in dangerously overcrowded inflatable boats designed for six.

When the rigid-hulled inflatable boats got into trouble, ran out of fuel and had to be rescued, the gang turned to a three-person jet-ski.

Had the gang not been stopped they would have been the first to have tried to run migrants across the world's busiest shipping route on jet-skis.

Following an Old Bailey trial, six men from the Kent-based transport gang and their Albanian "travel agents" were convicted of people-smuggling.

The migrants, including men, women and children, were charged up to £6,000 (€6,700) each for the hazardous journey.

Although two British smugglers had been jailed in July 2016 for their part in two earlier trips - the second of which required a coast guard helicopter and RNLI lifeboat to rescue them - the gang had bought another larger boat.

UK National Crime Agency (NCA) operatives planted a bug on it to listen in as the gang plotted their next migrant run.

On July 25, 2016, they ran into rough sea and turned back.

Then on August 13, the NCA secretly filmed a meeting of the Kent gang and their Albanian partners in a pub car park.

They went together to buy a jet-ski with a view to using it to transport migrants from France to Britain. The NCA moved in to arrest them over safety fears if the jet-ski was brought into use.

The ringleaders were 40-stone Leonard Powell (66) and his son Alfie (39). Another son, George (42), had admitted his part in the conspiracy. Four others were convicted.

NCA regional chief Brendan Foreman said: "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."

The men will be sentenced at a later date.

Irish Independent

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