Four British men accused of smuggling 29 people have been jailed in the UK. The men received sentences totaling 16 years between them for their part in sailing the migrants from France to the UK.
It's a gray morning in Newlyn Harbor in Cornwall, south-west England in April 2019. A 13-meter yacht chugs slowly along the harbor wall. Then, a line of figures walk up a jetty between moored boats and gates to land. The figures were captured on an amateur video shown on the British tabloid, the Daily Mail’s website, as well as that of local news site Cornwall Live. Later, what appears to be footage from a police helicopter tracks a truck as it makes its way along the M5 motorway in Devon.
At a certain point the police, who, reported the Daily Mail, were alerted to the activity by concerned fishermen in Newlyn who saw the migrants disembark the yacht and load into the truck, surround the lorry on the hard shoulder and bring it to a stop. When they open the back of the lorry, it is clear lots of people are crammed inside.
29 Vietnamese were inside the yacht
Police found 29 people in the van, all who are believed to be Vietnamese nationals. According to the Daily Mail, there were 12 adults and 17 minors under the age of 18. Don Tait, working for the Crown Prosecution Service called the operation a "well-planned attempt to breach the UK’s immigration legislation."
Tait also noted that although the 17 minors had been taken into care by the British authorities, and one of the adults deported, almost all those on board had since "disappeared," presumably within the UK. Tait added that "three [of the 17 minors] disappeared almost immediately and have not been traced." Of the remaining 11 adults, he confirmed that the authorities "have no idea where they are."
The four men accused of masterminding the migrants' entry into the UK were named as Glen Bennett, Frank Walling, Jon Ransom and Keith Plummer. Walling and Bennett are believed to have sailed the yacht from Newlyn to Roscoff on April 8, 2019 and back again with their "cargo" on April 12. The van was reportedly driven by Ransom whilst Plummer followed behind in a car. All four men were arrested at the scene and soon after.
'Assisting unlawful immigration into the UK'
The court found the four men guilty of "assisting unlawful immigration into the UK". Bennett and Walling admitted to the charges and received four and a half year sentences each. Although Ransom denied his charge, he was also found guilty and sentenced to four and a half years too. Keith Plummer admitted the same charge and "was given 40 months in prison."
At the trial, the sentencing judge said that the men had treated the 29 migrants "like freight," and accused the men of "not caring [about the migrants] one jot." He accused the men of making money by "benefiting from human misery."
Conditions on the boat were 'dreadful'
After the trial, a senior prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, Ann Hampshire said that the case was part of an organized crime. She said that the conditions on the boat were "dreadful" during a rough nighttime crossing, with nothing to eat and inadequate toilet facilities.
Some of the lawyers for the four men argued that the operation had not been well-planned and that one of them claimed to have made between 400-800 pounds from the whole operation. Although at least one of the accused had a long list of former convictions, he had not been convicted of anything similar in the past, pleaded his lawyer. All four men were between 55 and 73 years of age.
Glenn Willcocks, Detective Inspector with Devon and Cornwall police, who arrested the men, told the German press agency dpa in a statement after the trial: "We welcome today’s sentencing and hope it serves as a reminder that people are not commodities to be handled like cattle with total disregard for their health and safety."
He added that the vessel used to transport the migrants was "in a poor state, smelling strongly of diesel and cluttered with clothing and empty food wrappings."