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Group who tried to smuggle migrants across the English channel jailed for a total of 48 years

Seven members of an organised crime group who tried to use small boats and a jet ski to smuggle migrants across the English channel have been jailed for a total of 48 years and three months.

Six of the men were found guilty in August following a nine week trial at the Old Bailey. A seventh man had already admitted the charges.

A lengthy investigation into the group’s activity, led by the National Crime Agency, focused on two separate criminal networks working together, one Albanian and one from Kent. It was carried out with the support of the French National Police, Immigration Enforcement, Kent Police and Border Force.

National Crime Agency investigators were initially called in after a RHIB called the ‘Rebel’ was found by Border Force abandoned at Dymchurch beach, Kent in May 2016. The boat contained life jackets and a check of the vessel’s navigation system showed it had travelled across the Channel.

They subsequently uncovered a plot involving Albanian organisers Artur Nutaj and Saba Dulaj, who took on the role of “travel agents” organising the illegal facilitation of Albanian migrants into the UK from the north coast of France.

The Albanians worked with a Kent-based group, led by the Powell family – father Leonard and sons George and Alfie - to provide the transport facilities to move the migrants.

The Kent group bought a number of fast Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) and other general maritime vessels, which were used in their attempts to transport the migrants. On one such occasion on 28 May 2016 a boat got into difficulty and a rescue had to be mounted by Border Force, the RNLI and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Latterly the group purchased a jet ski with the intention of using that to move migrants. It was at this point that the NCA moved in to arrest those responsible.

On the 15 May 2018, at the Central Criminal Court, George Powell entered a guilty plea for his part in the conspiracy, but the remaining members of the group - Wayne Bath, Saba Dulaj, Artur Nutaj, Albert Letchford, Leonard Powell, Alfie Powell, Alan Viles and Francis Wade - pleaded not guilty and stood trial at the Old Bailey.

On Tuesday 7 August Bath, Dulaj, Nutaj, Letchford, Leonard and Alfie Powell were all found guilty. Two other men, Alan Viles and Francis Wade, were found not guilty.

Recently (Friday 21 September)

Sabah Dulaj was sentenced to seven years imprisonment
Artur Nutaj was sentenced to seven years and six months imprisonment
Alfie Powell was sentenced to six years imprisonment
George Powell was sentenced to six years and nine months imprisonment
Leonard Powell was sentenced to nine years imprisonment
Albert Letchford was sentenced to six years imprisonment
Wayne Bath was sentenced to six years imprisonment

As a result of this NCA investigation, codenamed Operation Sugate, a range of other offending including drug and vehicle crime was also identified involving associates of the group and other family members. Working with Kent Police the NCA were able to significantly disrupt this, and a number of people were arrested and later convicted.

National Crime Agency Regional Head of Investigation Brendan Foreman, recently (Friday 21 September) said:

“What this group were attempting was reckless and wilfully negligent of the risks associated with crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

“But, as the events of 28 May 2016 clearly demonstrated, they were quite happy to risk lives for the sake of profit, using vessels that were not fit for purpose.

“The severity of what these men were involved in is reflected in the sentences handed down today.

“Our investigation also uncovered a range of other offending by members of the group and their associates, including drug dealing and vehicle crime, which was having an effect on their community.

“Working with Kent Police and other partners we were able to disrupt that activity.”

Two other men connected to the group, Mark Stribling and Robert Stilwell, were jailed for more than four years each in July 2016. The pair were investigated by Immigration Enforcement in connection with the 28 May attempt to cross the Channel which ended with them and 18 migrants being rescued.

Emma Moore, Border Force Chief Operating Officer said: “Border Force was an integral part of the operation that brought this organised crime group to justice. Our officers also stepped in to ensure there was no loss of life when the reckless channel crossings the gang was engaged in went badly wrong.

“‘On 28 May, in dreadful sea conditions, Border Force officers launched their RHIB from the relative safety of the Border Force Cutter ‘Valiant’ multiple times to rescue all of those who were on board the smugglers’ boat. If it had not been for that bravery and exceptional seamanship I am convinced there would have been fatalities.’

“Working with the NCA, we will continue to bring anyone involved in this type of criminality to justice.”


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