Bedfordshire man in court on charge of people smuggling across the English Channel

News from the courts. ANL-180730-164550001
News from the courts. ANL-180730-164550001

A Bedfordshire man was among people traffickers who used an inflatable speedboat to smuggle illegal immigrants across the English Channel, a jury heard today.

The RHIB - rigid-hulled inflatable boat - was used to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane to transport four Vietnamese men from the continent to the Kent coast.

But the criminal gang behind the conspiracy did not know that their smuggling operation, as well as earlier failed attempts, were being recorded by undercover police officers, St Albans crown court was told.

Prosecutor Wayne Cleaver told the jury: “You will be aware that the UK can be an attractive destination for those wanting to come from overseas, but who cannot obtain a visa or other permit allowing them to do so.

“The short crossing from continental Europe across the English Channel is an obstacle which some will attempt to overcome.

“They seldom do so alone and without the connivance of criminal gangs whose primary interest is financial profit rather than any more noble motive of wanting genuinely to help the desperate or dispossessed.

“This case concerns the activities of one such Organised Criminal Gang. They operated for several months leading up to early August 2018 wholly oblivious to the fact that their movements were under police surveillance.

“A small boat was purchased and then deployed on test runs out into the Channel.

“The operation culminated in the successful landing of four Vietnamese men onto a Kent beach in the early hours of 3 August 2018. Unbeknownst to the criminal gangs, officers of the Serious Crime Squad were waiting, and the conspiracy between them was foiled.”

Three defendants Thomas Mason, 36, of High Street, Eyeworth near Biggleswade, Hoa Thi Nguyen, 49, of Bisterne Avenue, Walthamstow, East London and her partner Chi Tan Huynh, 41, of Pickford’s Wharf, Wharf Road, Hoxton, London N1 all deny conspiracy to facilitate the illegal entry of foreign nationals into the UK between 1 April and 3 August last year.

Hoa Thi Nguyen also denies acquiring criminal property - relating to luxury items: clothing, handbags and jewellery seized from her home.

Mr Cleaver told the jury that four others: Nazmi Velia, 32, of Park Street Lane, St Albans, Egert Kajaci, 35, of Turner Drive, Oxford, Erald Gapi, 27, of Marine Tower, Abinger Grove, Deptford SE8 and Wayne Lee ,46, of Grasmere Close, Watford had already pleaded guilty to their role in the conspiracy. Another man Patrick Ward had been prosecuted in France.

Mr Cleaver said Thomas Mason was central to the enterprise, having purchased the boat with Nazmi Velia from Exmouth, Devon on 26 June for £2,100 cash.

After two failed attempts, shortly after 1am on 3 August, officers on surveillance heard the sound of a boat engine at sea near Deal. Mr Cleaver went on: The gang were stopped by the police in Walmer, near Deal. Four male Vietnamese migrants, who could not speak English were taken into custody as illegal immigrants.

Mason was also arrested. A life-jacket, mobile phone and walkie-talkie were found on him. On the RHIB, the officers found Mason’s passport and maps that had a route from Kent to Europe. He remained silent when questioned by the police.

The three defendants say they were not part of the conspiracy and played no part in it.

The case is due to last 4 weeks.

Case proceeding