Six men have been found guilty of trying to illegally smuggle Albanian migrants across the English Channel in speedboats.
The gang was a mix of men from the south of England and Albanians, who acted as agents sourcing people who wanted to travel to Britain illegally, charging them around £6,000.
Father and son Leonard and Alfie Powell were convicted at the Old Bailey on Tuesday, along with Albert Letchford, Wayne Bath, Sabah Dulaj, and Artur Nutaj.
The six have yet to be sentenced.
The people smuggling operation was mainly based in Dymchurch, in Kent, and the gang was foiled following a series of failures, including one boat being rescued by authorities from a busy shipping lane.
The boat ran out of fuel in the summer of 2016 and while carrying 20 people, despite being designed for just six.
An inflatable boat called ‘Rebel’ was also found abandoned on Dymchurch Beach in Kent on the 11th of May 2016, containing personal belongings and vomit, indicating it was likely used to move migrants.
When Border Force officers visited the scene, Mr Bath told them he owned the vessel and claimed he had experienced an engine problem while out fishing at night.
The operation centred on attempts made to cross the Channel from #Dymchurch in Kent in 2016. NCA’s 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.” pic.twitter.com/MACVobMTF4
— NationalCrimeAgency (@NCA_UK) August 7, 2018
However, the National Crime Agency (NCA) was not convinced and launched an investigation.
Later in the same month, the NCA monitored the gang as they launched a new boat, which became stranded in the English Channel with 18 illegal Albanian migrants on board and two smugglers.
It got into difficulties around five miles from the British mainland and, using a helicopter, the NCA captured images of migrants bailing into the sea.
Richard Davis, who was on a Border Force boat during the rescue, told Sky News:
“It was quite rough and choppy seas and the exposure to a bitterly cold easterly wind was a concern to me as two of the migrants were suffering from hypothermia,” he said.
“They seemed in a large amount of distress, there were a couple of minors on board between 16 and 18 and my priority was to save life at sea and that those migrants were taken on board [Border Force boat] Valiant safely and everyone taken into Dover and seek medical assistance.”
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 14, 2016
The gang also abandoned another boat and set the vehicle towing it on fire, and in July 2016, purchased and even larger boat from Southampton, presumably looking to increase their criminal activity.
They were arrested the following month, in August 2016, after plotting to obtain a jet ski to ferry migrants, a plan described by police as “beyond reckless.”
NCA regional head of investigations Brendan Foreman commented: “These men were involved in a staggeringly reckless plot to bring migrants to the UK illegally and in a highly dangerous manner.
“They were prepared to risk lives for the sake of profit, treating people as a commodity to ship across the world’s busiest shipping lane using small boats and even a jet ski.
“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.”