Hare-brained jet ski people-smugglers found guilty

‘Dangerously incompetent’ human trafficking gang who smuggled Albanians across the Channel in high-powered dinghies then helped them ‘disappear’ in UK face jail

  • Human traffickers who smuggled Albanian migrants across the Channel face jail
  • Leonard and Alfie Powell and Wayne Bath used inflatable boats as a ferry service 
  • They also planned to start bringing individuals over on the back of jet-skis
  • Powells used a pub car park near their home in Farningham, Kent, to meet with their team of boat skippers and Albanian ‘travel agents’ before each migrant run 

A gang of human traffickers who made a fortune smuggling Albanian migrants across the Channel into Britain in a fleet of high-speed powerboats are facing jail.

Leonard Powell, 66, and his son Alfie, 39, and Wayne Bath, 38, used four rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) to provide a ‘very lucrative’ ferry service.

They also planned to start a personalised service bringing individuals over on the back of jet-skis, the Old Bailey heard.

Albanians were picked up on a French beach and raced across the channel to the Kent coast where they were left to melt into the countryside.

The Powells used a pub car park near their home in Farningham, Kent, to meet with their team of boat skippers and Albanian ‘travel agents’ before each migrant run.

A gang of human traffickers who made a fortune smuggling Albanian migrants across the Channel into Britain in a fleet of high-speed powerboats are facing jail. Pictured: Eighteen migrants aboard the traffickers’ boat the White Scanner which began to sink off the UK coast



Leonard Powell, 66, (left), his son Alfie, 39, (centre) and Wayne Bath, 38, (right) used four rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) to provide a ‘very lucrative’ ferry service for migrants. They all were convicted of conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of the immigration law of the UK

Pictured: Leonard Powell (right) meeting with Albanian gang members Sabah Dulaj and Artur Nutaj (centre) in a car park

Leonard Powell, Alfie Powell and Wayne Bath stood trial at the Old Bailey along with Albert Letchford, 42, Alan Viles, 27, Francis Wade, 59, Saba Dulaj, 23, and Arthur Nutaj, 39.

They were arrested on 14 August 2016 after a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.

The Powells, Bath, Letchford, Nutaj and Dulaj, were all convicted of conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of the immigration law of the UK.

The jury unanimously convicted them after more than 29 hours of deliberations.

Viles and Wade were cleared after denying involvement in the conspiracy.

Leonard’s other son George Powell has already admitted being part of the operation, along with two other smugglers.

Robert Stillwell and Mark Stribling were caught with 18 Albanian migrants on board after running into difficulties off the coast of Kent in the early hours of 29 May 2016.

Prosecutor Timothy Probert-Wood QC said the Powell organised the service while Bath and Letchford helped them by towing, storing and crewing their vessels and driving the newly-arrived migrants to their destinations once they arrived.

Albanians Dulaj and Nutaj were the ‘travel agents’, sourcing and communicating with the would-be migrants and liaising with the Powells.

Albanians were picked up on a French beach and raced across the channel to the Kent coast where they were left to melt into the countryside. Pictured: Migrants on a beach near Calais

The Powells used a pub car park near their home in Farningham, Kent, to meet with their team of boat skippers and Albanian ‘travel agents’ before each migrant run

Pictured: A burnt out Mitsubishi Shogun that was abandoned and set on fire after it had been used to tow the boat Antares, which was later rescued from the English Channel with 18 migrants on board

‘The evidence shows that they also helped with providing onward transport after a successful crossing, enabling the migrants to disappear once they entered the UK,’ said Mr Probert-Wood.

The gang used Gillingham Marina to launch their operations at first, travelling down to Escalles – a village 12km west of Calais – where they would meet crowds of would-be migrants who had gathered for the clandestine trip.

On 11 May, the morning after a successful migrant run, their boat ‘Rebel’ a RHIB with twin 100hp engines, was found tied up at Dymchurch beach, unattended at the slipway.

Early that afternoon Bath arrived and told Coastguard officers the boat was his and he had planned to go skate fishing with three friends and have a barbecue in Dungeness, but the poor weather conditions prevented them.

Once ‘Rebel’ had come to the attention of the authorities the smugglers bought a new vessel – a grey RHIB named ‘Antares.’

On 26 May French police on Escalles noticed a boat come into the beach but then back out and speed off without any migrants after a car signalled to it using its headlights.

Once ‘Rebel’ had come to the attention of the authorities the smugglers bought a new vessel – a grey RHIB named ‘Antares.’ Pictured: The Antares RHIB which was abandoned by the gang

A fourth vessel, ‘The Boat With No Name’ (pictured), was bugged in an operation involving Kent police and the French authorities 

The smugglers then bought another white RHIB called the ‘White Scanner’ for £12,500, which sailed off from Dymchurch two days later.

Messages from migrants’ phones show that by 11.37pm the Scanner was ‘in real difficulty, its occupants fearing for their lives’, and the Antares went out to meet it.

Mr Probert-Wood said: ‘There was the scene, the White Scanner drifting, 18 migrants on board, 17 men, one woman, the two people who stick out are Stribling and Stillwell.’

A rescue operation was mounted with a HM Border Force boat and helicopter belonging to the Coastguard.

The ‘Antares’ was spotted by the helicopter floating 50-100m from Dymchurch beach, unmanned.

The smugglers Stribling, 35, and Stillwell, 33, were arrested and pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, and of the 18 Albanians on board – 17 men and one woman – none had leave to remain in the UK.


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Pictured: The rigid-hulled inflatable boat Antares being driven to Dymchurch

Many of the migrants had been sent information as to the location of the Escalles pick-up point. Pictured: Migrants on beach near Calais

Many of the migrants had been sent information as to the location of the Escalles pick-up point.

The case was referred to the National Crime Agency who launched Operation Sugate to snare the shadowy gang of people smugglers.

NCA Branch Commander Mark McCormack said the main purpose was to protect the migrants and stop gangs with no experience at sea ferrying people across.

A fourth vessel, ‘The Boat With No Name’, was bugged in an operation involving Kent police and the French authorities.

Francis Wade and Albert Letchford had sailed the boat out of Ramsgate but soon ran into difficulty.

Wade had just completed a two day £250 course, designed to help beginners, before setting off to France.

He was secretly recorded saying: ‘It ain’t half choppy out there.

‘It is not my liberty, it is my life I am thinking about – it is that choppy out there.’

Prosecutor Timothy Probert-Wood QC said the Powell organised the service while Bath and Letchford helped them by towing, storing and crewing their vessels and driving the newly-arrived migrants to their destinations once they arrived. Pictured: The Boat with No Name 

Pictured: The rigid-hulled inflatable boat Rebel which was found abandoned on the beach at Dymchurch with children’s life jackets on board

He can be heard cursing because he cannot get the GPS system to work while typing in a French postcode which only works on a Sat Nav – ‘We have been out here for half a f****** hour’.

It circled in the busiest shipping lane in the world before swerving into the path of a fishing boat and a cargo vessel.

Two weeks later undercover officers watched as the gang bought a jet-ski for future people smuggling runs.

Bath, of Stonebridge House, Sea Approach, Warden, Sheerness, Kent; Dulaj, of no fixed address; Letchford, of (82) Rochester Road, Gravesend, Kent; Leonard Powell, of Hill Top Farm, London Road, Dartford; Viles, of (2) Ash Tree Road, Folkestone, Kent; Wade, of (22) Gill Avenue, Wainscott, Rochester, Kent; Alfie Powell, of no fixed address, and Arthur Nutaj, of (19) Wheatley Gardens, north London, all denied conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of the immigration law of the UK. 

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