Eastbourne Immigrant Smugglers Jailed

15 October 2016, 09:12 | Updated: 15 October 2016, 09:16

Two men who tried to smuggle 14 illegal immigrants across the channel into Eastbourne's Sovereign Harbour have been jailed.

The boat owner Jonathan Bridgeman, 42, from Burgess Hill, and Deshan Laci, 35, from South Croydon, were caught when their small motor boat broke down just outside the East Sussex harbour.

Bridgeman was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court to two and a half years in prison for assisting unlawful immigration into the UK. Laci, was sentenced to three years in prison for the same charge.

After setting off from Brighton Marina in November 2014, the men docked in Dieppe for a few hours. They set off on the return journey at around midnight with 14 Albanian illegal immigrants on board but their boat, the Sea Paz, got into difficulty outside the entrance to Sovereign Harbour, in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

The harbour master towed the boat into the marina and once docked the passengers tried to run away but were detained by harbour staff and police, although Laci managed to escape

Laci, a British citizen of Albanian birth, was later found to be the owner of a car wash in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, and Immigration Enforcement officers discovered an Albanian man working there illegally during a raid in February 2015.

Twelve of the immigrants have been removed from the UK and one has a pending asylum application with the Home Office, while the child had been handed over to the care of social services.

The former car wash employee has also been deported and the business has been served with a civil penalty.

Assistant director Dave Fairclough, from the Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigations team, said: "These convictions show how different agencies are working together effectively to secure our borders.

"It is thanks to the prompt action of the harbour staff, the swift response of the police and the thorough investigation subsequently conducted by my immigration enforcement officers that Bridgeman and Laci have been brought to justice.

"This investigation and these subsequent prison sentences should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of abusing our immigration rules. You will be caught, and you will face imprisonment.''