Six men who set up a storage base for a small boat people smuggling network in northern France have been jailed, after an investigation supported by the National Crime Agency.

NCA officers working with the Anglo-French Joint Intelligence Cell (JIC/URO) identified a location where boats and equipment were being stored by the crime group.

small boats 2

Life jackets

After intelligence from the NCA about a delivery of boats was passed to the JIC/URO, an investigation was opened in summer 2022 into the members of the network, who were then put under surveillance by OLTIM, the French police unit specialising in immigration crime.

Project Invigor

The investigation was supported throughout by Project Invigor, the NCA—led UK taskforce set up to target organised immigration crime.

Investigators identified members of the group, and then watched as they sourced boats from Turkey, engines and life jackets, taking them to the premises in Douai, a city 25 miles south of Lille.

The lock-up was being used as a staging post for the crime group, who would move boats from there to the French Cote d’Opale when they were required for migrant crossings.

In October French police moved in, arresting the six. They included three Iraqi nationals, one of whom is alleged to be the network’s head and chief organiser, controlling access to the lock-up in Douai.

Also detained was an Afghan national said to have acted as a recruiter for migrants, a Sudanese national who prosecutors say acted as a delivery driver, and a 41-year-old French man who also worked as a driver.

small boats 4Inflatable boats

Prosecutors believe the group were charging migrants around 1,500 euros to cross the Channel in their boats.

At Douai criminal court on Tuesday 7 February the men were sentenced to a combined 16 years in prison. The head of the group got a five-year jail term.

NCA Deputy Director Oliver Higgins said: “This investigation and subsequent convictions demonstrates how the close co-operation between the NCA and our partners in France is bringing results in tackling people smuggling.

“Much of the criminality involved in these small boat crossings lies outside the UK, so we have built up our intelligence sharing effort with law enforcement partners in France, Belgium and beyond.

“These smugglers don’t care about the safety of those they transport and are quite happy to put lives at grave risk for their own profits. This is why tackling them is such a priority for the NCA and our partners.”

By Ed

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