Published: 16:01, 12 January 2021
| Updated: 16:46, 12 January 2021
A new command cell has been launched to spearhead the fight against traffickers who send flimsy boats of desperate asylum seekers on perilous trips across the Channel - as it emerges crossings have fallen by 70%.
The permanent hub, based in Dover, was set up last weekend.
For the first time it brings together under one roof all partners involved in tackling 'illegally-facilitated small vessel Channel crossings'.
It is the lynchpin of an enhanced cross-government operation under the codename Altair.
The operation is spearheaded by the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O’Mahoney and will direct all necessary sea, air and land activity to tackle the problem.
This will build on the surveillance and patrols already in place.
Representatives from UK law enforcement and other partners along with aerial surveillance drone operators will be together in the same room working to detect, deter and disrupt those organising these journeys.
They will share information and co-ordinate with counterparts in Calais to catch the trafficking gangs involved.
The team will use radar technology and detailed weather reports to get a comprehensive overview of activity in the Channel.
Mr O’Mahoney said:“Significant steps were taken last year, including increased surveillance and more patrols on beaches, which have made crossing the Channel in this dangerous and unnecessary way harder than ever.
"Improved intelligence sharing has meant that the French prevented more than 6,000 attempts last year, but we know that more needs to be done.
“By setting up the new command cell we are making the UK’s and French law enforcement response more agile than it has ever been.
"It will ensure we have the right capability in the right place at the right time to stop boats from leaving French beaches and to deal with people who do make it into the water, protecting lives and bringing the criminals responsible to justice.”
The cell's location in Dover is not being disclosed for security reasons.
Last July a Joint Intelligence Cell (JIC) was created in France made up of UK and French law enforcement officers.
In its first four months of operations it prevented 1,100 crossings and led to the arrest of 140 people.
Since Mr O’Mahoney’s appointment last August, Immigration Enforcement Criminal and Financial Investigations officers have secured 10 convictions.
These have been on charges of assisting unlawful immigration to the UK of people who steered boats to the UK.
There are currently 121 live criminal investigations into small boat crossings.
Last year Home Secretary Priti Patel also secured further cooperation from the French Government.
This involved signing a new joint agreement that doubled the number of police patrolling French beaches and increased surveillance of the coastline.
The Home Office stresses that last year more than 6,000 crossings were prevented thanks to intelligence sharing between countries.
Intelligence shows that organised crime gangs target days of calmer weather for attempted crossings.
The most recent data shows that crossings on days with the most favourable conditions have dropped by more than 70% since September.
This is as a result of improved intelligence sharing, enhanced surveillance and patrols of the French beaches, the Home Office explains.
It also bucks the pattern in 2019 when crossings surged from 41 in September to 271 in December and in 2018 when numbers went from virtually zero in September to 138 in December.