Two British men admit people smuggling after boat of 18 Albanians rescued

Pair arrested last month after dramatic rescue operation on the English Channel

Sunday 03 July 2016 18:44

Two British men are facing jail after they admitted to trying to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the country on a boat.

Robert Stilwell, 33, a former British judo champion and Mark Stribling, 35, were off the coast of Dymchurch, Kent when their boat had to be rescued by lifeboat crews last month.

The pair were arrested after a coastguard helicopter and two lifeboats were required to attend a dramatic rescue operation on the English Channel during the early hours of the morning.

Mr Stilwell, from Dartford, Kent, and Mr Stribling, from Farningham, Kent, appeared at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent on Monday.

Neil Guest, defence counsel for Mr Stribling, played down the role of the two defendants in the people smuggling.

He said: "The two defendants were hired boatman. They are no higher in any hierarchy than that."

Judge Philip St John-Stevens remanded them in custody at Elmley prison on the Isle of Sheppey until July 29, when they are due to be sentenced.

Prosecutor Nina Ellin said she expected to play video footage from the rescue helicopter and produce statements from two of the refugees describing their journey and the conditions on the boat at the sentencing hearing next month.

A second boat was discovered on the beach at Dymchurch the following morning and was seized by the authorities.

It is thought traffickers are now targeting the rural Kent coastline, following ramped up security measures at major ports and the Channel Tunnel.

CCTV footage of boats being towed through the Dymchurch during the night has increased suspicions of people smuggling in the area.

A spokesperson for Dover Lifeboat Station urged people not to sail at sea without proper equipment.

They told The Independent: "The persons on board the vessel did not have any navigation or GPS equipment to navigate safely at sea."

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