Author: GEORGE ODLING FOR THE DAILY MAIL
A retired Navy captain and two other British men have been jailed for trying to smuggle Vietnamese immigrants into Britain for £8,000 a head in a sea operation which descended into farce.
The smugglers – ‘brainwashed’ by a plot mastermind – sailed their boat from Kent to 100 yards from the French coast where an accomplice waved a torch in the middle of the night.
Twelve migrants waded into the water from the shore and swam towards the vessel. Eleven climbed on board but the last man could not get up a rope ladder.
French police, acting on a tip-off from British colleagues, swooped on the scene and arrested the gang and the Vietnamese as they attempted to flee.
Former naval officer Ronald Scott, 70, was at the helm of the vessel as the cloak and dagger operation was foiled by maritime police 20 miles south of Calais.
British police had informed the French authorities that Scott and his crewman, Toby Lake, a 24-year-old DJ from Hoo, Kent, had set sail in the early hours of August 30. Police boats surrounded Scott’s vessel by Pointe aux Oies (Geese Point).
Building site worker Stephen Chapman, 37, from Chatham, Kent, was spotted guiding the craft in towards the beach with a torch. The gang were speedily dealt with by the French courts and sent to prison.
A prosecuting source in France said: ‘Eleven of the migrants got as far as a rope ladder lowered from the side of the boat and then got on board, while the 12th person remained in the sea. He had trouble getting up the ladder.
‘When those on board became aware of the police, they attempted to steam away at speed, but were caught’. Scott, from Gravesend, was jailed for 30 months for people trafficking by a court in Boulogne. Chapman was sentenced to two years and Lake one year.
All three admitted being involved in the operation, but insisted that a British man named only as ‘Fred’ was behind the plot. Scott and Lake said they were ‘very scared’ of Fred, and had not received any money from him.
Scott had led his neighbours to believe he was going to France for a holiday. One said: ‘I saw Ron leaving with a holdall on the Monday or Tuesday and assumed he had gone on holiday. He does go to France quite a lot.’
A source close to Chapman said Fred had promised him easy money if he shone the torch from the beach, persuading him that there was no risk involved.
‘None of them got paid a penny. They were desperate and forced into doing something they didn’t want to do,’ the source said.
‘I just hope they catch this Fred as he’s just ruined the lives of three families for his own selfishness, blackmailing and threatening people.
‘Stephen was desperate for money. He asked Fred for a loan and Fred said “No, but if you just stand on the beach and shine a torch I will give you the money”. Basically he brainwashed him by saying there was no risk.
‘He made a stupid decision to try and help his family, and now he has been jailed for two years for shining a torch on a beach.’
Lake’s girlfriend, who asked not to be named, said he had told her he would be ‘away for work’ but would be back soon.
‘He didn’t say what he was doing. He told me how much he loved me and he would be away for work for a while.
‘Then suddenly his phone went dead and I couldn’t get hold of him. I just can’t believe this has happened.
‘He’s never like this. He’s normally a very chilled guy so I have no idea how he got mixed up in something like this. He’d told me he was going to change his life, turn things around.
‘He’s a good boy from a good family and I just don’t see why he would do this. I’m just shocked.’
Lake’s father Anthony said he had not been able to speak to his son since his arrest.
He added: ‘We haven’t been able to see him or speak to him.’
The Vietnamese migrants are all currently in the care of the French authorities.
France’s northern coast remains a magnet for illegal migrants from all over the world, with many desperate to cross the Channel to Britain and claim asylum.
Boat owners, including fishermen and former merchant navy officers, have been caught up in people smuggling but it is highly unusual for former members of the British military to be involved.