A human trafficking gang who smuggled 29 Vietnamese people, including children, into Britain have been jailed for 17 years.
The four men forced the victims onto a filthy 42ft yacht, with only one toilet, which docked in Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall, on April 12 last year. Police were called to the scene after members of the public saw them cramming people into the back of a van in the harbour car park.
Officers stopped the van, which was being followed by another vehicle, on the M5 near Cullompton, Devon. They opened the van door and found 29 Vietnamese nationals cramped inside.
It was heard the criminal group was motivated by profit and ‘traded in human misery’ with their victims ‘carted around like freight’, with no regard for their safety.
Jon Ransom, 63, from Kent, Glen Bennett, 55, from Burnley, and Frank Walling, 72, from Colne, were sentenced to four-and-a-half years behind bars, while Keith Plummer, 63, was sentenced to more than three at Truro Crown Court.
The four were convicted on Monday under section 25 of the Immigration Act – assisting unlawful immigration.
Speaking after the case, Detective Inspector Glenn Willcocks said: ‘The vessel was in a poor state, smelling strongly of diesel and cluttered with clothing and empty food wrappings.
‘The boat would have been extremely cramped with all 29 people having to share a single toilet.
‘The four convicted today risked the lives of 29 men, women and children without any appreciation of the danger of their circumstances.
‘They were motivated only by monetary reward and thankfully no one paid the ultimate price.’
It is believed the 29 victims boarded the yacht, called the Johan Sebastian and owned by Walling, in Roscoff, France.
Walling and Bennett crewed the vessel, which came into Newlyn Harbour early in the morning, before they forced the victims into the van which was stopped by police.
They were then taken to a multi-agency reception centre and referred to the Home Office and social care services to be managed.
Two men were arrested in Newlyn Harbour, and two more were held when the van and car were brought to a stop on the M5.
Ann Hampshire, senior crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, described the trip as ‘carefully planned’.
She said it was a ‘well organised operation involving people and places in different parts of the UK, carefully co-ordinated to facilitate illegal entry into the UK’.