Pilots of Channel migrant boats have sentences quashed in major blow to Home Office tactic to combat people smugglers
One of the Home Office’s main tactics to combat Channel migrant boats was in disarray yesterday as judges quashed three people-smuggling convictions.
The Court of Appeal overturned the sentences of Iranians who had piloted migrant dinghies.
Judges ruled that the convictions were ‘unsafe’ because the original prosecutions had not addressed whether the men or their passengers intended to enter this country illegally.
The Home Office has secured scores of convictions against would-be asylum seekers after gathering evidence – including video footage – showing they had been at the helm of small boats in the Channel.
The Court of Appeal overturned the sentences of Iranians who had piloted migrant dinghies (file image)
Yesterday’s ruling will cast doubt on the use of those tactics and a host of other sentences could now be challenged on similar grounds.
Judges yesterday disclosed that seven other similar appeals are already pending.
The Court of Appeal quashed charges of ‘assisting or facilitating unlawful immigration’ against Samyar Bani, Mahamoud Al Anzi and Fariborz Taher Rakei.
Mr Bani had been convicted in November 2019 and sentenced to six years’ in prison. The court heard Border Force agents saw him piloting a small boat with four other adults and a child aboard in June 2019.
They were intercepted at sea and brought to Dover. A mobile phone in Mr Bani’s possession had been used to make calls to buy the boat and check the weather forecast before the crossing, his trial was told.
Mr Al Anzi, one of 12 people aboard a dinghy in June last year, was convicted in February and sentenced to three years and nine months’ in prison.
Yesterday’s ruling will cast doubt on the use of those tactics and a host of other sentences could now be challenged on similar grounds (file image)
The following month Mr Rakei was convicted over a separate incident and sentenced to four years and six months’ imprisonment. He had been one of 13 aboard a rigid-hulled inflatable and had a compass and three mobiles on him.
An appeal by a fourth Iranian man – Ghodratallah Zadeh, who pleaded guilty in October last year to assisting unlawful immigration and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment – was not formally quashed as he is expected to face a retrial.
The Court of Appeal judges, chaired by Lord Justice Edis, found that in all four cases it was unclear whether the occupants of the boat intended to commit an offence by failing to declare their arrival in the UK by, for instance, landing on a beach and running away.
A migrant picked up by the British authorities in the Channel is not committing an offence, they noted.
‘A matter which the prosecution must prove – that at the time of the facilitation the appellant knew or had reasonable cause to believe that his act was assisting entry or attempted entry into the United Kingdom without leave – was not properly investigated and was then not left for the jury to decide,’ the ruling said.
‘We cannot accept the submissions of the prosecution that convictions are safe notwithstanding these failures. The errors were too fundamental for that.’
The Home Office said: ‘We need to fully digest this judgment.’
The Court of Appeal judges, chaired by Lord Justice Edis, found that in all four cases it was unclear whether the occupants of the boat intended to commit an offence by failing to declare their arrival in the UK by, for instance, landing on a beach and running away (file image)