Two men have been jailed after they were caught smuggling migrants into the country on a boat that capsized when it ran out of fuel with 18 Albanians on board off the Kent coast.
Former judo champion Robert Stilwell, of Stanley Close, Greenhithe, was sentenced to four years and four months and Mark Stribling, of Hilltop Farm, Farningham, near Swanley, to four years and eight months.
Stilwell, 33, who represented Great Britain and held European and Commonwealth titles, and Stribling, 35, admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of a member state.
Stribling (left) and Stilwell have been jailed for four years and eight months each
Judge Jeremy Carey told them: “This case shows the best and the worst of human characteristics. On the part of the rescue services…a real and conspicuous devotion to duty and a considerable risk to themselves.
“On your part greed, recklessness and deceit in a desire to get easy money. For easy money it was for what seemed to be a short trip in a vessel taking no more than half an hour to an hour.”
Neil Guest, for Stribling, said the pleas were tendered on the basis they were “hired boatmen and not hierarchy”.
Video footage from a sea rescue helicopter showed the distressed state of the 15 men, one woman and two children on board, who paid 6,000 Euros each to come to the UK.
Stilwell and Stribling, who claimed they were to be paid £2,000 each for the venture, were arrested after the inflatable boat got into difficulties off the coast of Dymchurch just before midnight on Saturday, May 28.
Migrants were rescued from a sinking inflatable boat at Dymchurch
A Border Force cutter on patrol in the Channel received reports of suspicious activity relating to a small craft.
But as they approached with HM Coastguard the cutter and coastguard received a distress call from the same vessel.
“This was a particularly callous attempt to smuggle people into the UK.” Dave Fairclough, Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team
Lifeboat and coastguard crews rushed to the scene after reports the rigid-hulled boat had been spotted shortly before midnight and was taking on water.
A helicopter was scrambled and the migrants were eventually found and taken ashore to Dover and into the custody of the UK Border Force.
Prosecutor Nina Ellin said the commander of the Border Force cutter HMC Valiant had received messages asking him to go to Dymchurch and search for a vessel containing immigrants.
Shortly before 1am on May 29, the inflatable boat was located. It was taking on water and the immigrants on board were in a distressed state.
Littlestone and Dungeness lifeboats went to the scene about 1.5 miles from the shore along with a search and rescue helicopter.
Footage from the helicopter showed two migrants desperately trying to bail out water from the rib in difficult sea conditions.
Both Stilwell and Stribling were wearing life jackets, but the migrants had none.
Miss Ellin said a voice was heard saying they had rescued those on board while out fishing.
Dave Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team which led the investigation, said: “This was a particularly callous attempt to smuggle people into the UK.
“We often talk about people smugglers treating individuals as commodities. To my mind, that is exactly how Stilwell and Stribling regarded their passengers.
“They were not human beings, they were cargo, and as such did not merit life jackets for a dangerous night crossing, in poor conditions of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
“The sentences handed out today should serve as a warning to anyone tempted to get involved with this kind of criminality.
“Working closely with Border Force colleagues we will catch you, and you will face imprisonment.”
Anyone with information about suspected immigration abuse can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
Content retrieved from: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/romney-marsh/news/smugglers-set-to-be-sentenced-99846/.