Two men from Kent have been jailed for smuggling nearly 30 Vietnamese people 'like freight' into the UK through a harbour in an historic fishing village.
Keith Plummer, 63, of Scrapsgate Road, Minster and Jon Ransom, 63, of Coats Avenue, Sheerness, were part of a group of four human traffickers who were locked up for a total of 16 years between them after a judge said they were motivated by greed.
KMTV reveal the moment the smuggling operation was smashed
They were arrested in April last year after residents watched as several foreign nationals, inlcuding women and children, piled out of a yacht in broad daylight to be bundled into a van.
They were then piled into a windowless vehicle and driven away from Newlyn Harbour in Cornwall.
The yacht had sailed from Newlyn to Roscoff, France, and was in a very run-down condition following its return crossing of Channel with its illegal cargo.
Several shocked local fishermen called police who tracked the van as it travelled up the M5 motorway before stopping it near the services by Cullompton, Devon.
Inside cops found a total of 29 immigrants - believed to be Vietnamese - all crammed on board. The yacht at Newlyn was simultaneously raided and police arrested four men under the Modern Slavery Act.
Glen Bennett, 55, of Burnley, Frank Walling, 73, of Colne, Lancs, and Plummer all admitted assisting unlawful immigration. Jon Ransom, 63, also of Sheerness, denied the charge but was found guilty after a trial.
The gang all appeared in the dock at Truro Crown Court on Monday when they all remained emotionless as they were locked up.
Walling, Bennett and Ransom all got four and a half years each and Plummer was given 40 months.
Judge Robert Lindford told them: “In the van, being carted around like freight, were 29 living, breathing and I have no doubt desperate human beings for whose plight you cared not one jot. This was no humanitarian enterprise but one for gain, benefiting from human misery.
“The people trafficked by you all were taken from the van and spoken to by police and representatives of the home office.
“They were housed and in the case of the children cared for. Most of them now have effectively disappeared.
“You four are all responsible for the fact that these people are now unlawfully in this country, but more than that you were in a trade that exploited these poor, hapless people.
“There is no evidence that any of you recruited others or forced anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do.
“It has been said that this wasn’t a sophisticated operation. This didn’t just happen, the boat didn’t just happen to be over in Roscoff when you were asked to provide a lift for 29 strangers. You each had a part to play in this and you played it.
“This offending is far far too serious for anything other than immediate imprisonment.”
Don Tait, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the court how the immigrants were smuggled onboard a yacht called the Yohan Sebastian.
He explained the yacht has set off from Newlyn, Cornwall, on April 8 with Walling and Bennett on board. It sailed to France and arrived back on April 12.
The court heard how the van was driven by Ransom and followed by Plummer, who was driving an Audi TT. Walling and Bennett stayed behind in a nearby café where they were later arrested.
Mr Tait added: “The two vehicles were followed onto the M5 before being pulled over. 29 men, women, and children of Vietnamese origin were found on board.
“This was a well planned attempt to breach the UK's immigration legislation. Common sense dictates it would have been preferable for the smugglers to arrive under the cover of darkness.
“You four are all responsible for the fact that these people are now unlawfully in this country, but more than that you were in a trade that exploited these poor, hapless people..."
“17 of them were deemed to be under the age of 18 and were placed with various local authorities, they were spread far and wide.
“Of those 17, three disappeared almost immediately and have not been traced. There were 12 adults and one of those 12 was deported, the remaining we have no idea where they are.”
Piers Northworthy, for Walling, said: “He is a 73-year-old man, he has a significant record but he has nothing on his record of this type."
Dieter Kehler, for Bennett, said: “Was it well planned and well researched? It doesn’t seem to be.”
Robin Smith, for Plummer, said: “At worst it could be seen that his involvement stretched over two days. It is right to say that his financial reward was to be modest, it is some where in between £400 and £800.”
Jason Beal, for Ransom, said: “He tried to deny his involvement. There must have been some commercial benefit for those involved. These things don’t just happen, they didn’t just wake up and commit this offence. There had to be some planning involved.”
Speaking after the case Ann Hampshire, senior prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We’re dealing with organised crime. There is a significant amount of planning involved with a crime like this.
“The conditions on the boat were dreadful - it was a night time crossing, it was rough, there was nothing for them to eat, and toiled facilities on board the boat were particularly dreadful.
“They were then ushered from the yacht straight into a waiting vehicle where they would have been trapped for six or seven hours.
“The early call to the police meant they could allocate the resources and stop the vehicle.”
Detective Inspector Glenn Willcott said: “The motive can only have been financial, they thought nothing of the welfare or suffering of those involved.
“They loaded them onto the van like cattle before setting off onto the M5."