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Pair jailed for boat bid to smuggle 18 Albanians across the Channel from France

PUBLISHED: 13:09 29 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:09 29 July 2016

Undated handout photo issued by the Home Office of  Mark Stribling  who along with Robert Stilwell have been jailed at Maidstone Crown Court after they tried to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 29, 2016. The pair admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France which had to be rescued in the English Channel. See PA story COURTS Smugglers. Photo credit should read: Home Office/PA Wire

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Undated handout photo issued by the Home Office of Mark Stribling who along with Robert Stilwell have been jailed at Maidstone Crown Court after they tried to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 29, 2016. The pair admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France which had to be rescued in the English Channel. See PA story COURTS Smugglers. Photo credit should read: Home Office/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Mark Stribling, 35, and Robert Stilwell, 33, admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France which had to be rescued in the English Channel.

Undated handout photo issued by the Home Office of Robert Stilwell who along with Mark Stribling have been jailed at Maidstone Crown Court after they tried to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 29, 2016. The pair admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France which had to be rescued in the English Channel. See PA story COURTS Smugglers. Photo credit should read: Home Office/PA Wire

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder. Undated handout photo issued by the Home Office of Robert Stilwell who along with Mark Stribling have been jailed at Maidstone Crown Court after they tried to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 29, 2016. The pair admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France which had to be rescued in the English Channel. See PA story COURTS Smugglers. Photo credit should read: Home Office/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Two men who tried to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the UK before their boat broke down have been jailed for a total of nine years.

Mark Stribling, 35, and Robert Stilwell, 33, admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France which had to be rescued in the English Channel.

Stilwell, a former European and Commonwealth judo champion, and Stribling were to be paid £2,000 each to make the journey to the south of Calais and transport the migrants, who had paid £6,000 each for the crossing, Maidstone Crown Court heard.

The migrants - 15 men, one woman and two children - had waded into the water before climbing on board the white rigid inflatable boat (rib) on the evening of May 28 this year.

They had to be rescued by the Coastguard and the crew of HMC Valiant after the boat lost power one and a half miles (2.4km) from shore.

Stribling, of Hilltop Farm, Farningham, near Swanley in Kent, was jailed for four years and eight months and Stilwell, of Stanley Close, Greenhithe, was sentenced to four years and four months in prison.

Stilwell appeared stunned by the sentence and mouthed “Tell them I love them” as he was sent down, while Stribling smirked.

In sentencing, Judge Jeremy Carey said: “This case shows the best and the worst of human characteristics.

“On the part of the rescue services, a real and conspicuous devotion to duty and at considerable risk to themselves.

“On your part, greed, recklessness and deceit and the desire to get easy money.

“In the event, there was a rescue and those who were rescued should be very grateful, as you should be to those who came to your aid.

“A tragedy was averted by a whisker.”

The court heard that the two men, who both had criminal records, had been wearing all-weather clothing and life jackets on board.

The boat lost power shortly after they set off from France and had been drifting for almost three hours, taking in water.

A video from the search and rescue helicopter played to the court showed a migrant using a small container to try to bail out the boat, while Stribling could be seen remonstrating with other migrants.

When lifeboat crews arrived, the woman migrant was “showing signs of hypothermia”, prosecutor Nina Ellin said.

It took four return trips to the HMC Valiant, a Border Force cutter ship, to remove all the migrants and the defendants from the rib, taking a total of an hour and a half.

Ms Ellin said rescuers overheard one of the defendants - the only English speakers on board - claim they had been fishing and had rescued the migrants, while the other was said to have shouted that the boat had run out of fuel as they did so.

Once the pair arrived back at Dover, they appeared in “good spirits” and joked about the strength of the tea and coffee.

In interview, Ms Ellin said Stilwell told police: “Yes, they were in the water but he did not want to elaborate further on this as the officers would twist everything he said.”

The husband of the woman migrant told police he had been told by another migrant that there had been threats “the boat would be punctured” with scissors if they alerted authorities, while the woman said she had been told of threats they would be “thrown into the sea”.

The pair feared for their lives, and Ms Ellin said: “They believe if they had been 10 more minutes on that boat they would have died.”

The Coastguard was only alerted because of phone calls the migrants made to family members.

Both men pleaded guilty on the basis they were the boatmen and not part of the hierarchy of the smuggling operation.

Kate Hunter, defending Stilwell, said the father-of-one was “remorseful”.

She added: “He is a keen judo sportsman, he started at the age of five and carried on into adulthood. Unfortunately at 21, he had a severe injury, which caused him crushed vertebrae and unfortunately he could not keep up with the high standard he had reached.

“As a result of that, money difficulties came into Mr Stilwell’s life.

“He had a part time job. He had not left school with many qualifications and suffered from dyslexia.”

His mother was ill with thrombosis and his father had retired, meaning the family struggled to pay their bills and so Stilwell took the offer of cash to transport the migrants, Ms Hunter said.

Neil Guest, defending Stribling, said his client was unemployed and had one five-year-old child and another child on the way with his girlfriend of 35 years.

Mr Guest said: “£2,000 to him was some degree of salvation.”

He added Stribling had no sailing or baiting experience.

“He was simply, no pun intended, out of his depth,” Mr Guest said.

“He has not got a maritime background at all - he hails from Swanley.

“It does not take a great deal of seamanship to do what has been done.”

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