Three men have been jailed for their parts in organising voyages across the English Channel to smuggle people into the country
Jean Pierre Labelle, aged 45, of Ashey Road, Ryde, Isle of Wight.
Stephen Redhead, aged 47, of Horsbridge Hill, Newport, Isle of Wight.
Christopher Barber aged 55, of Landguard Road, Shanklin, Isle of Wight.
Were sentenced to prison sentences of eight years, five years and three years respectively today 18th March at a hearing at Isle of Wight Crown Court.
Both Redhead and Barber were found guilty by unanimous jury of conspiring to do an act to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non EU person, contrary to the Immigration Act, following a trial at Portsmouth Crown Court which concluded on 4 March.
Labelle pleaded guilty to the same offence at a court hearing on 3 February.
On 17 March 2020 Labelle travelled to Cherbourg, France, on board a 70ft ketch yacht named ‘Anore’ with Redhead and Barber.
They returned to East Cowes Marina in Hampshire on 19 March 2020 with 12 additional people who are suspected to have been migrants entering the UK illegally.
CCTV was examined showing the migrants alighting the vessel and a report was made to Hampshire Constabulary following the incident, before being passed to officers from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) to investigate.
The migrants are believed to have been in the UK but have not been able to be traced due to the incident being reported retrospectively.
Between 26 June and 27 June 2020, Labelle organised another journey using a small boat named ‘Freedom’. On this occasion he was unsuccessful and the vessel used was intercepted after a joint operation with SEROCU, the National Crime Agency and French authorities.
Six Albanian nationals were found to be on board along with two criminal associates who were subsequently prosecuted in France. Checks established that the Albanians did not have the necessary pre-entry clearance needed to enter the United Kingdom.
Labelle, Redhead and Barber were charged with the offence on 25 May last year.
Senior investigating officer Clair Trueman, from SEROCU, said: “Redhead, Barber and Labelle have been sentenced to substantial prison sentences for their parts in smuggling people in to the country.
“This concludes a detailed investigation into organised immigration crime by the South East Regional Oganised Crime Unit with the support of the National Crime Agency, UK Border Force and French authorities.
“The consequences of people entering the country illegally are never far from news headlines – often with all too familiar tragic headlines. While on this initial occasion 12 people did arrive in the UK without incident, they are believed to have entered the country illegally and have subsequently disappeared without trace.
“The sentences issued recognise the gravity of the offence and we will continue our work to target those who bring people in to the country illegally, taking gambles with the lives of fellow human beings, in order to profit.”
NCA Regional Head of Investigations Peter Stevens said: “People smugglers risk lives for the sole aim of profit, and these men were no different. This is why we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the organised criminal gangs involved, along every step of the route. I’m delighted that through joint working with the NCA, SEROCU and the French authorities we have been able to put a stop to this criminal enterprise and secure these convictions.”
The NCA has issued an appeal to the UK maritime industry to beware of organised crime groups targeting them to obtain small boats for people smugglers.
Some of the signs sellers are being told to look out for include:
Buyers looking to pay in cash; Repeat or bulk purchases of boats or equipment; A lack of concern about the condition of the boat or equipment being purchased; Buyers wanting to complete transactions quickly, cheaply, or without a delivery address.
Boat owners are also being asked to take extra security measures to protect their vessels and equipment and report suspicious behaviour, following cases of theft or attempted thefts of boats and equipment.
Anyone with concerns about suspicious activity report it to the independent charity Crimestoppers, either by freephone on 0800 555 111 at any time or via the Crimestoppers website.