Two people, one of whom is British, have been convicted and jailed in France as a result of close working between the UK-French authorities in people smuggling investigation involving the National Crime Agency.
The pair were arrested in the early hours of 27 June as they prepared to leave the French port of Cherbourg in a small vessel, as part of an operation which was led by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) working with the NCA, Border Force and the French authorities.
Five Albanian migrants were found on board.
The boat had sailed to France from the Isle of Wight two days earlier.
On 2 July 2020 at a court in Cherbourg, boat skipper Joshua Van Praagh, 25, from Portsmouth was jailed for three years and banned from returning to France for ten years. Albanian national Armando Hodo, 25, was jailed for three years and also banned from France. Their sentences became definitive on 22 July. A 54-year-old man from London, was also convicted, but has appealed and now faces a re-trial. He was also arrested on 27 June in Cherbourg.
NCA deputy director Matthew Long said: “These convictions and jail sentences are testament to the close partnerships we have with our law enforcement colleagues in France. We recognise the threat posed by criminal networks involved in immigration crime, and we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle them. People smugglers treat migrants as a commodity to be profited from, and are content to put them in situations of extreme danger. That is why this type of crime is a priority for us.”
Detective Inspector Clair Trueman, from SEROCU, said: “We have worked closely with our counterparts in France and wider UK law enforcement partners in order to stop those who attempt to facilitate illegal immigration. These are serious crimes, where vulnerable people have their lives put at unnecessary risk in order to make money without any considerations for their welfare. SEROCU will continue to work jointly with the NCA, Border Force and authorities abroad to catch these organised crime groups and protect those at risk from them.”
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: “These convictions demonstrate the determination of law enforcement partners and authorities on both sides of the Channel to put the criminals responsible for small boat crossings behind bars. The new joint intelligence cell which was agreed during mine and the Home Secretary’s visit with the newly appointed French Interior Minister at the weekend builds on this effective work. For the benefit of both our countries we will continue to crack down on the gangs behind these vile people smuggling operations.”