Brightlingsea: People smugglers jailed after work from our specialist Marine Unit
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Three men who organised people smuggling crossings from France and Belgium to the UK have been sentenced to a total of more than 14 years' imprisonment.
The sentences follow work by our specialist Marine Unit, which stopped a boat on the River Colne, near Brightlingsea, in October 2022.
PS Alex Southgate, of the Marine Unit, said:
“Three males were on board and none appeared dressed for being out at sea, so we stopped them and made some enquiries. “We escorted them back to Brightlingsea harbour so we could investigate further. “While doing this, PC Perry was able to ascertain from their boat’s chart plotter that they had been visiting various secluded beaches and marshes along the Essex and North Kent coastline.”
After submitting their intelligence, the unit was approached by the National Crime Agency, which began monitoring the group.
NCA officers established that Albanians Banet Tershana, Klodian Shenaj, Jetmir Myrtaj and British national Desmond Rice were responsible for a number of crossings in October 2022.
The first incident occurred on 8 October when a rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) named Orca was spotted by a coastguard plane offloading a number of migrants in Joss Bay, Kent.
The same drop off location was used for a second crossing on 23 October.
Investigators discovered that Myrtaj, 45, from Leicester, used a false identity to arrange for the Orca to be moored at a marina in Brightlingsea, Essex, and paid for repair work to make the vessel seaworthy.
Phone evidence showed Myrtaj was waiting on the beach as the boat arrived in the early hours of 9 October.
Officers were later able to identify him and the RHIB pilots, and plot their journey from Essex to the Belgian/French coast and back again.
Around a week earlier, Rice , 47, from Aylesbury had purchased a second boat named Aquaholic for £22,500, which he and Shenaj, 49, from Nottingham, picked up from Poole and then transported to Brightlingsea Marina.
On the evening of 22 October, CCTV showed Rice had filled 12 canisters with nearly £1000-worth of fuel at a petrol station in Brightlingsea, which he then took to the Aquaholic.
GPS tracking was used to prove that the vessel had been to Belgium and then travelled back to the UK, while cell site data showed Shenaj and Tershana were in the Essex area when the boat returned.
A third crossing was attempted after Rice provided a kayak to two men so they could access the boat. NCA officers, who were watching the group, tipped off the Belgian Police and the boat was intercepted as it landed on the coast near Nieuwpoort on 29 October.
The two pilots, aged 35 and 45, were arrested as they attempted to load 12 migrants, including a woman and child, into the boat. Examination of the RHIB showed the six life jackets available were unsuitable for use at sea.
The men are now being prosecuted in Belgium.
Rice was arrested the same day.
During a search of his house an invoice for the Aquaholic and registration papers were found, and the kayak used to access the boat was also in the back of his van.
Officers searched hours of CCTV footage to track the network’s movements and analysed their phones to establish that they were involved in people smuggling.
Our Marine Unit also provided footage of Myrtaj on board the Orca on 2 October where he claimed he owned the boat, proving his association to the pilots.
Shenaj was arrested a month later and denied any involvement, Tershana was apprehended in February 2023, and Myrtaj was arrested in March 2023.
Tershana pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration on 17 April, while Myrtaj pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial at Nottingham Crown Court on 31 July. Shenaj and Rice pleaded guilty the following day.
Tershana received five years imprisonment, Rice received four years six months imprisonment and Shenaj received four years nine months imprisonment at the same court today (25 August).
Myrtaj is due to be sentenced at a later date.
We work to keep Essex coastline safe
PS Southgate said:
“Our Marine Unit polices the approximately 360 miles of coastline from the Thames at Crayford Ness to the River Stour in Manningtree. “We work closely with partners including the NCA to keep our coastline safe and to catch criminals determined to engage in unsafe crossings.”
NCA Branch Commander Derek Evans said:
“Our investigators worked tirelessly to identify members of this people smuggling network and take action before they could arrange any more dangerous crossings. “Tershana was the organiser, financier and collected payment from migrants, Shenaj was the conduit between mainland Europe based facilitators and the UK, and Myrtaj and Rice were integral to facilitating the crossings. “Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA, and we will continue to target people smugglers both in the UK and overseas.”
NCA officers are appealing for information on the whereabouts of Arsen Feci, 44, from Nottingham, who was charged with assisting unlawful immigration.
He was bailed by the court in March 2023 and absconded.
Investigators believe he was involved in buying equipment and sourcing people to ‘staff’ the crossings.
Feci is thought to have fled abroad.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts should contact the National Crime Agency immediately on 0370 496 7622 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.