Author: Adele Couchman
Six men have been found guilty of attempting to smuggle Albanian migrants across the English Channel – and now face jail terms.
The group were convicted of organising a highly dangerous operation that attempted to ferry Albanian nationals into the UK using inflatable boats and a jet ski, Kent Live reports.
On May 28, 2016, at least 18 migrants were taken from Calais to arrive in Dymchurch, Kent, where a white minibus was waiting for them.
The migrants had been put into the inflatable boat – designed for just six people – but had to be rescued five miles off the coast after it got into difficulties.
The plot involved Albanian organisers Artur Nutaj and Sabah Dulaj, who worked with a Kent-based group led by Leonard Powell, from Farningham, and his sons George and Alfie from Farningham and Swanley.
Wayne Bath, from Sheerness, and Albert Letchford, from Gravesend, were also involved.
Migrants collected from hotels in Calais
George Powell previously entered a guilty plea in May, though the remaining six denied the offence of conspiring to facilitate a breach of immigration law.
The group of six went on trial at the Old Bailey, and were found guilty on Tuesday.
They will all be sentenced on September 21.
Alan Viles from Folkestone and Francis Wade from Rochester were cleared.
The National Crime Agency began their investigation after an inflatable boat equipped with life jackets was found dumped on Dymchurch beach in May 2016.
Five days later the vessel was used to travel over to France and collect an unknown number of migrants.
it was here that French police saw people being collected from hotels in Calais and taken to a beach at Escalles.
The boat returned to Dymchurch in the early hours of May 11.
CCTV captured three vehicles, two of which were being driven by Nutaj and Dulaj, arriving at the slipway and then leaving shortly after.
Later that month on the evening of May 26, the French National Police were again carrying out surveillance at Escalles beach when they witnessed a group of 17 people wading out into the water.
At the same time, light signals were seen from a car park above the beach, causing a boat to leave the area.
Attempt to smuggle migrants on a jet-ski
National Crime Agency investigations identified the boat to have been towed from Dymchurch earlier that day.
This eventually led to the failed journey on May 28, where some 18 migrants had to be rescued off the Dymchurch coast.
The two-man crew of the boat, Mark Stribling and Robert Stilwell, were later convicted and jailed.
Later the the National Crime Agency discovered Leonard and George Powell buying a jet-ski in Sheerness, believed to be for the purpose of transporting migrants from France to the UK.
‘A staggeringly reckless plot’
National Crime Agency regional head of investigations Brendan Foreman said: “These men were involved in a staggeringly reckless plot to bring migrants to the UK illegally and in a highly dangerous manner.
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.
“In disrupting and dismantling this people smuggling network we have not only protected the security and the integrity of the UK border, but also saved lives.”