Two men who conspired to smuggle four Iraqi migrants, including a heavily pregnant woman and six-year-old, into the UK have both been given a four and a half year prison sentence.
Bradley Turner, 38, and John Sheppard, 67, of Essex, were arrested after being found in a ‘thoroughly unseaworthy’ fishing boat carrying Iraqi nationals off Ramsgate, Kent, in August 2018.
The pair, who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to facilitate a breach of immigration law, were sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court on Thursday.
Bradley Turner (left), 38, and John Sheppard (right), 67, of Essex, were arrested after being found in a fishing boat carrying Iraqi nationals off Ramsgate, Kent, in August 2018
Sentencing Judge Simon James said the pair had sought to profit from ‘the desperation of others’ and ‘any attempt to circumvent the border controls has a capacity to undermine the nation’s security’.
He said the migrants would have been seeking ‘a new life for themselves’ but the prevalence of illegal immigration was a ‘matter of considerable and understandable public concern, placing as it does an increasing burden on the state’.
‘The message needs to go out that trafficking people is not an easy way to make money but a serious and exploitative offence’, the judge said.
Prosecutor John Livingston told the court the RNLI received a distress call from a fishing vessel with engine failure in the English Channel heading towards the Kent coast on August 9.
The boat, named the Little Bit of Bait, owned and captained by Turner, was towed back to Ramsgate and referred to Border Force officials.
Officers boarded the vessel and found Turner, Sheppard and another man – one of the Iraqis – on board.
Mr Livingston said it was later established a family of three, a man, a ‘heavily pregnant’ woman and a six-year-old child, had already disembarked before officers arrived.
The boat, named the Little Bit of Bait, owned and captained by Turner, was found not to be ‘safe’ to use for Channel crossings
Sheppard became ‘very aggressive’ and was ‘threatening to throw the Border Force officers into the water’, Mr Livingston said.
He claimed the boat had been to Belgium and the third man on board was his son-in-law, the court heard.
Following their arrest, Turner said in an interview that the boat headed out on a fishing trip and spent the night at Dunkirk before heading back to the UK.
On the return voyage he claimed not to have noticed ‘anything unusual’ until after putting out a mayday call.
But Mr Livingston said footage taken by one of the migrants showed him on the boat’s deck and the mother and child slept in the vessel’s wheel house.
Texts from Turner’s phone later revealed he was being pursued for debts by a man named Leigh Joyce.
The court was told Turner approached another man called Richard Bradley, who loaned him a total of £10,000 to help refurbish his boat.
Mr Livingston said Turner told Mr Bradley he was ‘due to receive £15,000 in inheritance’.
It lacked required equipment such as navigation lights and radar, the court was told. Mr Livingston said the boat was ‘thoroughly unseaworthy’ for the attempted crossing and ‘plainly putting everybody at risk’
‘He received an assurance from Mr Turner that the £10,000 would be paid back by the 18 August, when of course this trip to Dunkirk would have been over,’ Mr Livingston added.
The court heard an assessment by PC Murdoch from Dorset Police found the boat, a small inshore fishing dayboat, was not ‘safe’ to use for Channel crossings.
It lacked required equipment such as navigation lights and radar, the court was told. Mr Livingston said the boat was ‘thoroughly unseaworthy’ for the attempted crossing and ‘plainly putting everybody at risk’.
Mitigating for Sheppard, Mr Ian Foinette said he had been ‘recruited’ and given a phone to help smuggle over the migrants but was not one of the operation’s ‘prime movers’.
Mitigating for Turner, Dominic Webber said he was a father-of-seven who cared for his sick wife, who had loved fishing ‘all his life’.
Mr Webber said Turner denied his boat had lacked appropriate safety equipment at the time of the Channel crossing, the court was told.
Judge James accepted the two men were not ‘at the very top’ of a criminal organisation but played a ‘significant role and were clearly trusted by those further up the chain.’
The court heard Sheppard has 44 previous criminal convictions, including handling stolen goods and conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
Turner has been convicted of seven previous offences.