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People smuggler who ferried migrants from Calais into Kent jailed

A "dangerous" people smuggler ferried migrants, including a child, across the world's busiest shipping lane in a small rubber vessel.

Samyar Bani was discovered piloting one of four rigid-hulled inflatable boats (rhib) off Kent's south coast on June 1.

KMTV report as Samyar Bani found guilty of assisting unlawful immigration

The 35-year-old denied smuggling the Iranians - including a nine-year-old - insisting the voyage was a joint operation with his friend at the boat's controls.

But a jury took an-hour-and-a-half to unanimously convict the Iranian of assisting unlawful immigration at Canterbury Crown Court today.

Bani claimed he fled his homeland in 2015 seeking a better life in Europe after renouncing Islam for Christianity, which can be punishable by death.

Crossing from Turkey into Greece, he would go on to apply for asylum, have it rejected, then slip into Germany on fake papers.

Samyar Bani with outboard motor in the background
Samyar Bani with outboard motor in the background

But the authorities there rebuffed his asylum bid, prompting Bani to train his sights on France, predominantly Calais, where he pitched up in the Jungle encampment.

And it was at the migrant encampment he met the other boat passengers, the court heard.

Prosecutors argued Bani's illegal, somewhat nomadic movement, indicated a habit of unlawfully entering countries.

But defence lawyers insisted it was the methodical movement of someone fleeing persecution.

The court heard Bani crossed the continent to source the craft for £700 using trains and taxis earlier this year.

On the night of May 30, in calm seas, Bani and the five others set off from Calais on the Rhib, with no lights, across the world's busiest shipping lane, the jury heard.

"To distinguish this individual [Bani] from hundreds of others who make this trip daily, is wholly wrong... he is as much of a victim as others who have found their way to our shores..." - John Barker

About seven hours later Border Force's patrol ship Hunter found the group tightly huddled wearing life jackets about a mile into UK waters.

After intercepting Bani's craft, Hunter was instructed to divert and pick up a larger boat, containing nine adults and a child.

Earlier that morning officers had picked up two other crafts, and so numerous immigrants were being dealt with at Dover's processing centre.

Iranian Bani gave his name and handed over his mobile phone, he claimed to have travelled through Turkey, Greece, and Germany, before embarking to the UK.

Detectives released him to temporary accommodation while the authorities processed his right to seek asylum.

But meanwhile officers probed his phone and soon re-arrested the suspect on June 4 after discovering suspicious material.

Samyar Bani on board the rhib with the men being smuggled
Samyar Bani on board the rhib with the men being smuggled

"They began to see a number of images of relevance, a number of images of inflatable boats and one image contained a picture of the Rhib this defendant had been intercepted in," prosecutor Peter Forbes explained.

Images of weather application 'Windy' showing conditions for Calais and the English Channel, including one dated the day of the voyage, were discovered.

Bani would later insist only he had a mobile phone because his friends posted theirs to England.

The court heard Bani, of previous good character, was interviewed at Folkestone Police Station where he gave a prepared statement, claiming to be an asylum seeker.

He then gave 'no comment' responses to police questions, the jury was told.

Alexander Stone, customs officer aboard Hunter, told the court it was unknown how many boats made the 24-mile voyage the same night.

She stressed how dangerous it is to make the crossing.

"This could have been a cause of five counts of manslaughter... you put them in immediate risk of death by drowning..." - Judge Mark Weekes

Without safety equipment, lights, or a shipping radar while travelling at about five knots, it would be unclear if a larger, faster ship was approaching, she explained.

John Barker, mitigating, said Bani, originally from Shiraz, funded the venture after receiving money from his parents.

"To distinguish this individual from hundreds of others who make this trip daily, is wholly wrong," he said.

"He is as much of a victim as others who have found their way to our shores.

"It is a situation that I have never heard of before and I'm sure your honour has never heard of before."

Jailing Bani for six years, Judge Mark Weekes told the court he was: "Heavily involved in your own and other enterprises that night.

"This could have been a cause of five counts of manslaughter. You put them in immediate risk of death by drowning.

"You were responsible for endangering the lives of all on the craft that night.

Earlier this year Bani's UK asylum application was refused.

Bani who will face automatic deportation to Germany on release, remained passive throughout the trial.

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