Author: DAVID PILDITCH
A gang which smuggled Albanian migrants into Britain on high-powered boats and jet-skis was facing jail last night. The network was smashed following a series of blunders as gangsters became increasingly reckless, the Old Bailey heard.
The men and their Albanian “travel agents” denied people smuggling in a nine-week trial.
In the dock were ringleaders Leonard Powell, 66, and his son Alfie, 39, alongside Wayne Bath, 39, Albert Letchford, 42, Sabah Dulaj, 24, and Artur Nutaj, 39.
Another son, George Powell, 41, had entered a guilty plea.
The court heard the Powells, a traveller family, were related by marriage to Dulaj and Nutaj who sourced the migrants and helped them enter the UK.
They were all convicted of conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of the immigration law of the UK.
The migrants, including women and children, were charged up to £6,000 each to travel on dangerously overcrowded inflatable dinghies designed for six by men who had little boating experience nor any idea of the dangers.
The gang later attempted to run migrants across on jet-skis.
Surveillance began after a boat was found on the beach at Dymchurch, Kent, with children’s life jackets in May 2016.
Bath claimed to have been out “night fishing” but its navigation system showed it had travelled across the Channel.
Five days later, French police watched as immigrants were collected from hotels in Calais before being taken aboard the boat which returned to Dymchurch where three vehicles were waiting.
Later that month French police spotted a group of 17 migrants wading towards a second vessel.
Two days later the gang used a third vessel to collect 18 migrants including two teenagers and a woman.
On the return journey, they ran out of fuel and the migrants were forced to start bailing out.
The terrified group sent desperate text messages, with one saying: “We are in England, tell police, we are drowning.”
The gang bought another larger vessel but National Crime Agency operatives planted a bug on it.
After running out of fuel on a second bid to cross the Channel, the vessel made a Mayday call and was found adrift.
Days later police swooped on gang members and raided the Powell’s farm in Farningham, Kent, seizing drugs, cutting agents and stolen vehicles.
The gang will be sentenced at a later date.