Organised crime gang steals hard drive containing vital evidence against Channel people smugglers from UK base

11 August 2023, 15:00

Key drone-filmed evidence of Channel trafficking has been stolen from an airfield
Key drone-filmed evidence of Channel trafficking has been stolen from an airfield. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Important evidence about people-smuggling across the Channel has been stolen and it is suspected an organised crime gang is responsible.

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Aviation fuel worth about £30,000 and tools were also stolen from Lydd airport, in southern Kent, which contains the control room for drones that watch for small boats.

These record migrant crossings via camera and that footage is used to prosecute criminals and help target gangs who bring them over the sea.

A hard drive that was held in a safe in a hangar was stolen in the raid on August 1. It contained footage of crossings from previous days.

Thieves broke in to Lydd airport
Thieves broke in to Lydd airport. Picture: Alamy

The clips had not been forwarded to Border Force or other organisations like the National Crime Agency.

Although the fuel was taken, the aeroplane and four drones based at Lydd were unaffected. They were thoroughly examined to ensure they were safe to use.

The raiders managed to break in by climbing over a fence and then cut through tarpaulin outside the hangar using a knife.

Read more: Migrants evacuated from Bibby Stockholm days after boarding as Legionella bacteria found in the water

Vital evidence about small boat crossings was taken
Vital evidence about small boat crossings was taken. Picture: Alamy

It is believed the theft was an inside job because it happened at a time when there were no members of staff at the targeted hangar.

A second hangar, used by the Coastguard, was left alone.

Bristow Helicopters, which owns the airfield, has boosted security since.

It comes as the total number of migrants to cross the Channel since records began in 2018 hit more than 100,000.

About 755 migrants made the perilous trip on Thursday, a record for this year. More than 15,000 have crossed so far.

Border Force also had to deal with the loss of a £400,000 drone that operates out of Lydd airport, as it crashed into the sea. It is scheduled to be repaired.

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