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Leader of people smuggling gang jailed

The leader of a people smuggling gang bringing illegal migrants into the UK on a dinghy has been jailed following his extradition.

Vladimir Bardoshi 36, from Albania, was the third member of the group to be convicted after he was handed a nine-year prison sentence at Canterbury Crown Court on Tuesday (19/5).

A South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) investigation uncovered that the group transported illegal migrants from France in small inflatable boats, travelling across the English Channel at night and landing on beaches near to Deal, Kent.

Following the conviction of two associates, Feim Vata and Xhemal Baco in 2018, a European Arrest Warrant was issued for Bardoshi, who co-ordinated the operation, initially in the UK before moving to Europe.

He was located in Spain in January 2020 and subsequently transported back to the UK. In April he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to do an act to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law by a non EU person.

It is thought that Baco and Vata, who were each jailed for eight years in November 2018, completed the trip across the Channel at least three times and, whenever they had cause to abandon the boat, would simply purchase a new one with cash and using false names.

On one night in October 2018, Baco picked up six Albanian illegal migrants in France, with Baco driving the small inflatable boat across the English Channel. Upon arrival to the shore close to Deal, Baco hid the boat in some bushes and he and the illegal migrants entered a vehicle driven by Vata, before they were arrested by officers.

The final conviction follows months of investigation, led by SEROCU and assisted by Kent Police, the National Crime Agency, UK Border Force, French Police, French Navy, National Maritime Information Centre, Immigration Enforcement and Thames Valley Police.

This conviction represents a huge amount of work by authorities both here in the UK and across Europe. I’d like to pay tribute to the tenacity of everyone involved in this investigation, as their efforts have ensured that the leader of this dangerous group has been jailed.

When the men and the illegal migrants were arrested, we found them cold and wet, they had travelled in an overloaded inflatable boat with no life vests or navigation equipment and across a busy shipping lane in total darkness. It is remarkable that no one died during the extremely risky process.

I also hope that this sentence serves as a stark warning to those looking to put lives in danger by bringing people into the UK illegally. We are committed to apprehending those involved and will do everything in our power to ensure they are stopped.

Detective Inspector Clair Trueman, SEROCU Investigations Team