Three alleged members of an Albanian organised crime group bringing migrants to the UK in small boats and HGVs have been arrested following a National Crime Agency operation.
A 34-year-old man from Grays and a 34-year-old man from Dagenham – the suspected group ringleaders – were apprehended this morning (Monday) on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration.
NCA investigators believe the group have facilitated the illegal entry of numerous migrants, charging between £2,500 and £7,500 each time, including an event last August where a small boat with 46 migrants on board left from the French coast and was intercepted in British waters.
Those on board were predominantly Albanian nationals, and included young children. One of those attempting to make the crossing was a convicted rapist who had previously been deported from the UK and has now been deported again.
Passengers were removed from the boat and taken to a holding centre by Border Force officers. The NCA, working closely with Border Force’s Small Boats Operational Command, investigated the incident.
Three further events believed to be linked to the group involving an HGV were identified by NCA officers in October and November 2022.
The lorry is believed to have travelled from Coquelles, France, on three separate occasions, stopping at service stations in Cobham and Thurrock to drop off migrants.
The HGV driver, a 55-year-old man from Belgium, was arrested when his lorry was stopped in Folkestone today.
Two other men were arrested on suspicion of unlawful entry to the UK at an address in North London.
All of those arrested remain in custody to be questioned by NCA officers.
Chris Farrimond, Director of Threat Leadership at the NCA, said: “We have dismantled a suspected organised crime group behind a number of dangerous migrant crossings last year.
“People smugglers do not care about the safety of those they transport, they seek to exploit them for profit.
“Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA and we have more than 90 ongoing investigations into networks based here and overseas causing the highest harm. As we target callous organised criminal gangs, we will not hesitate to also pursue HGV drivers complicit in helping them.”
19 June 2023