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'Reckless' Farnham Common migrant smugglers who drove overloaded boats jailed

A duo of people smugglers from Farnham Common who were caught smuggling illegal migrants into Britain in an overloaded inflatable boat have each been jailed for eight years.

Feim Vata, 32 and Xhemal Baco, 24, both of The Broadway in Farnham Common both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration to a member state on Monday and were sentenced today (Wednesday) at Canterbury Crown Court.

An South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) investigation uncovered that the men had been transporting illegal migrants from France in small inflatable boats across the English channel at night on to the beaches close to Deal in Kent.

It is suspected Baco and Vata, both originally from Albania, completed the trip at least three times and whenever they had cause to abandon the boat, they would purchase another with cash using false names.

On October 20, Baco picked up six Albanian illegal migrants in France and drove them across the English Channel.

Upon arrival to the shore close to Deal, Baco hid the boat in some bushes and he and the migrants entered a vehicle driven by Vata before they were arrested.

Officers first caught wind of the operation around October 2017 when a member of the public found a boat on the coast and reported it to investigators, who traced the purchase back to Baco and Vata.

From there they were able to trace their purchases and used Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology to track when they travelled to the coast.

The investigation was assisted by law enforcement agencies on both sides of the channel and the French Navy.

Detective Inspector Clair Trueman from SEROCU, who led the investigation, told the Express the scale of the ‘fairly sophisticated operation’ is not fully known, but that Baco and Vata were ‘pretty high up’.

It is not known how much the pair were paid for their work.

“I think the sentence that the judge has passed is a real message to those that are involved in it to say that if you do get caught we are going to come down on you,” said DI Trueman.

She said eight years is ‘quite a significant sentence’ considering the two men’s guilty pleas.

“Whilst I am pleased that these men are now behind bars, it is amazing that no one died during the extremely risky process.

“When the men and the illegal migrants were arrested, we found them cold and wet, they had travelled in an overloaded inflatable boat with no life vests or navigation equipment and across a busy shipping lane in total darkness.

“Experts told us that attempting to cross the channel in a boat the size Baco and Vata did, is like trying to cross the M25 at its busiest time on foot.

“They also told us that the boat was extremely unsuitable and overloaded.

“The boat Baco and Vata used is not designed to cross the channel, they used empty water bottles for bailing the water out which was found with the boat.

“It was reckless to even attempt such a crossing and everyone is extremely lucky to have survived.”

Some of the migrants have already been sent back to Albania and others are due to be deported — None of them claimed asylum.

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