Man arrested over supply of boats used by people smugglers for Channel crossings

16 October 2020, 21:07 | Updated: 16 October 2020, 21:21

A 30-year-old man who police believe is involved in supplying small boats to people smugglers has been arrested
A 30-year-old man who police believe is involved in supplying small boats to people smugglers has been arrested. Picture: NCA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A 30-year-old man who police believe is involved in supplying small boats to people smugglers in France for the use in Channel crossings has been arrested in Hastings.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) searched a property at around 9am on Friday after officers took the man into custody.

He is suspected to be linked to a number of small boats which have been used by migrants to cross the Channel, the NCA said.

One boat was found in St Margaret's Bay in Kent on 2 September, the same day a record 416 migrants are believed to have made the perilous crossing.

Meanwhile, more people are believed to have made it to the UK on Friday after recent choppy seas calmed.

More than 7,000 migrants have crossed the Dover Strait to Britain in 2020, data analysis by the Press Association news agency shows.

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Shortly after the arrest, officers searched a nearby property, supported by Sussex Police officers.

The NCA investigation relates to the sale and distribution of vessels sourced in the UK, and subsequently taken to France to be used in cross-Channel attempts.

In a separate operation on Friday morning, NCA officers made several arrests linked to an investigation into a criminal network suspected of smuggling migrants into the UK in vans or lorries.

Four men were detained near the A2 Cobham Services in Kent at around 8am after officers witnessed what is believed to have been a handover of migrants from a lorry into two cars.

All those arrested are now being questioned on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.

Four Albanian migrants were also detained and have been handed to the immigration authorities.

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NCA regional head of investigations Andrea Wilson said: "The organised crime groups involved in people smuggling are cynical in their exploitation of migrants, and are happy to put them in incredibly dangerous and life-threatening situations, either in boats or in the back of lorries

"We believe this activity today will significantly disrupt at least two such networks.

"Working with partners we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the criminals behind these crossings, and our investigation into this particular criminal enterprise continues."

Last month NCA deputy director Matthew Long revealed the lengths to which the agency is going to tackle the "continuous threat" of organised immigration crime.

A joint UK-French intelligence cell launched in July has been involved in the arrest of almost 100 suspected people smugglers in France.

But when pressed on whether increased arrests and convictions of criminals involved in small boats crossings would eliminate the issue altogether, Mr Long said the route had become "more established".

He added: "I expect it to be here for a while."