An alleged people smuggler attempted to sneak 50 migrants into the UK on an ‘overloaded’ small dinghy – in return for not having to pay the £1,700 fee to cross the English Channel himself, a court has heard.
Hamouda Chitioui’s vessel was intercepted six miles off the Kent coastline as part of a plan to ‘breach immigration laws’, jurors were told.
Prosecutors have alleged that the 34-year-old Egyptian fisherman, who was trying to get to Britain himself, offered to pilot the boat across the Channel from France.
The majority of the migrants making the crossing on June 29 last year were from Afghanistan, while others were from other countries including Albania, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan.
As well as skippering the vessel, Chitioui was seen striking other passengers with his hand for not disembarking quickly enough on to the Border Force boat that intercepted them, the court heard.
The Home Office is expecting to house around 1,000 channel migrants aboard two vessels – likely to be moored in Merseyside and potentially Teesside
Immigration officers Jade Powell (pictured) and Christopher Getley were at the scene when Chitioui arrived in British waters
He became one of the first people to be arrested in the wake of then-Home Secretary Priti Patel’s 2022 Nationality and Borders Act, which came into force the day before on June 28.
He denies assisting unlawful immigration to the UK, claiming he paid his way as a passenger and simply helped pilot the Rigid Inflatable Boat [RIB] when the driver fell ill.
Opening the case at Winchester Crown Court, Hants, prosecutor Daniel Bunting said: ‘On June 29 last year there was a RIB, a small dinghy, that set sail from northern France with 51 people on board, including the defendant.’
Mr Bunting said all people on board were from countries which meant they had to apply for visas but hadn’t.
‘The consequence was that all people, by seeking to arrive without permission, were seeking to breach immigration law’, he said.
‘The UK authorities became aware of a RIB coming to the UK… around 7.30am one of the vessels, Border Force Typhoon, was sent to where the RIB was.
‘A Border Force official was keeping observation and he saw Mr Chitioui piloting the boat for about 15 minutes.’
Mr Bunting said all of the migrants were helped off the boat and on to Typhoon, given a number for identification reasons, then taken to Dover.
Immigration officer Christopher Getley was given the task of keeping watch of Chitioui.
He told the court: ‘I saw him piloting it for about 12 minutes. He looked to be in control.
‘He was one of the last off the boat [when it was intercepted]. He was telling people what to do. People were not moving fast enough so he struck them, back of the hand. He seemed to be in control.’
Mr Getley said the small boat was ‘unsuitable’ and ‘overloaded’.
He added: ‘The risk of an accident was our concern.’ In Dover, immigration officer Jade Powell arrested Chitioui.
She told the court Chitioui said: ‘I did not drive. Only hand on [the boat tiller] like others.’
Prosecutor Mr Bunting said an investigation showed Chitioui had ‘planned’ the trip some weeks before.
Messages from June 8, 2022, obtained from Chitioui’s WhatsApp showed him telling another individual he ‘agreed’ to pilot the boat.
In one message, he said: ‘I want to go, I am a captain, I am originally a fisherman.’
Mr Bunting said: ‘This is him offering his service because the driver does not pay. He agreed to pilot the boat for free passage to the UK.
‘This is a clear indication that several weeks before the crossing he was arranging it and offering his services in order to avoid having to pay, like someone in his position would have had to do.
Hamouda Chitioui allegedly volunteered to pilot the vessel in exchange for not paying the £1700 fee to cross the channel, a jury has heard at Westminster Crown Court (pictured)
‘It was not something that on the day he agreed to do, this was something he planned in advance.
‘He was not a mere passenger, he was someone that was piloting the boat.’
A total of 28 Afghans were on board the RIB. Others were from Albania, Egypt, India, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.
Under current UK law, some citizens from certain countries need permission to enter the UK and must apply for a visa.
Chitioui denies assisting unlawful immigration to the UK. However, he has admitted an alternative count of attempted entry to the UK.