A Lithuanian pilot has been jailed after being caught red-handed on a small airstrip trying to fly a family of illegal Albanian migrants into the UK.
Algirdas Barteska, a former flying instructor, was arrested at a private member’s flying club in Seething, Norfolk, on June 24th last year.
According to The Telegraph, UK Border Force personnel chased him down the runway as he attempted a “drop and run” mission involving three Albanian migrants.
Mr. Barteska attempted to take off and continue with his mission, despite the approaching officials, and was only deterred after they pursued the light aircraft and banged on the cockpit window.
He was later found to be carrying €5,000, which he explained was his payment from the family of his passengers for smuggling them into Britain from Germany.
Judge Stephen Holt told the court that Mr. Barteska’s crimes fell into “the more serious category” and should be considered a deterrent to others planning similar crimes.
“Small airfields, particularly in Norfolk are just defenceless,” he added.
“There just isn’t the manpower and there has to be a deterrent aspect. In my judgement, there are dozens of small airfields in East Anglia which are extremely vulnerable to this sort of people smuggling.”
Mr. Barteska had made similar flights, possibly smuggling other illegal migrants into the country.
The alarm was raised in May, when the airfield’s staff were alerted by members of the public who had seen him making two test flights to the airfield.
When the plane’s transponder showed re-entering British airspace on June 24th, after departing Dinslaken in Germany, border force staff were mobilised.
It later emerged that Mr. Barteska had filed a flight plan to Nottingham airport but had made no mention of his passengers.
The pilot argued that his passengers were merely interested in buying a plane in the UK and he had made an unplanned landing because one needed to use the toilet.
The judge rejected this claim and said Mr. Barteska’s employer, a Finnish businessman who runs a firm ostensibly helping people with immigration, was “the principle figure in the people smuggling operation”.
Commenting on the case, Adam Hutton, chief immigration officer in Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigations Team, said: “… The reality is that he agreed to deliberately try to circumvent the UK’s immigration controls in exchange for money.
“Barteska’s offences struck at the very heart of immigration control and his conviction today sends a clear message that this kind of criminality will be severely dealt with.”