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Jail terms for Britons caught in people smuggling boat scheme

Published 15/10/2016

The men were sentenced at Lewes Crown Court
The men were sentenced at Lewes Crown Court

Two Britons who attempted to smuggle 13 Albanian men and a child across the Channel in a small motor boat have been jailed.

The boat owner Jonathan Bridgeman, 42, was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court to two and a half years in prison for assisting unlawful immigration into the UK, while Deshan Laci, 35, was sentenced to three years in prison for the same charge, the Home Office said.

After setting off from Brighton Marina, the men docked in Dieppe, France, for a few hours before setting off on the return journey to the UK at around midnight on November 15 2014.

Bridgeman, 42, of Toll Gate, Burgess Hill, West Sussex was caught after the vessel, named Sea Paz, got into difficulty outside the entrance to Sovereign Harbour, in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

The harbour master towed the boat into the marina and once docked the passengers tried to flee but were detained by harbour staff and police, although Laci managed to evade capture.

Laci, a British citizen of Albanian birth from Ridge Langley, South Croydon, was later found to be the owner of a car wash in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, and Immigration Enforcement officers discovered an Albanian man working there illegally during a raid on February 15 2015.

Bridgeman pleaded guilty at Lewes Crown Court on October 23 2015 and Laci admitted the charge on September 2.

Twelve of the immigrants have been removed from the UK and one has a pending asylum application with the Home Office, while the child had been handed over to the care of social services.

The former car wash employee has also been deported and the business has been served with a civil penalty.

Assistant director Dave Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team, said: "These convictions show how different agencies are working together effectively to secure our borders.

"It is thanks to the prompt action of the harbour staff, the swift response of the police and the thorough investigation subsequently conducted by my immigration enforcement officers that Bridgeman and Laci have been brought to justice.

"This investigation and these subsequent prison sentences should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of abusing our immigration rules. You will be caught, and you will face imprisonment."

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