Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

Pair jailed for Brighton Marina people smuggling scheme


Pair jailed for people smuggling

A man who claimed to be a human rights activists has been jailed for six years for smuggling 21 illegal immigrants into Brighton Marina in a 55ft yacht.

Enrique Figueroa, 46, who admitted assisting illegal immigration, said he brought the group of Asian women and men to the UK for humanitarian reasons.

But the French national's explanation was not accepted by Hove Crown Court.

His co-accused, Nelson Bazin, 23, who also pleaded guilty to the charge, was jailed for three and a half years.

Recorder Peter Gower said he was certain Figueroa had acted for financial gain.

I'm quite sure that you acted for financial gain. I simply do not believe your evidence to the contrary
Recorder Peter Gower, Hove Crown Court

The court heard a large group of people of "oriental or Chinese appearance" were seen getting off the motorised yacht, named Pelican, when it arrived at the marina from Dieppe, on 27 June 2009.

Prosecutor Irena Ray-Crosby said other boat owners watched as the group of Asian men and women walked to a nearby bus stop with Figueroa and then boarded a bus.

She said the harbour manager notified the police, immigration authorities and the Coastguard after he received reports of the activity but they were unable to stop the group boarding a train to London at Brighton station.

Figueroa and Bazin, who is also from France, were arrested two days later.

The court was told Figueroa was the "prime mover" who organised the operation.

Jeffrey Lamb, defending, said after campaigning for the rights of illegal immigrants as a journalist and human rights activist in France he decided it would be more effective to transport them to a better life.

Figueroa, who learnt to speak English while he was on remand, said: "I know it's illegal but I'm happy that these guys have a new chance in their lives.

"I took absolutely no money from them."

'Became suspicious'

After being told of Figueroa's previous convictions, Recorder Gower said he did not believe his claim his actions were motivated by humanitarian reasons because of the "inherent unlikelihood of you being an armed robber turned philanthropist".

He told Figueroa: "I'm quite sure that you acted for financial gain. I simply do not believe your evidence to the contrary.

"The experience of courts in this country is that defendants traffic people in large numbers for reward. I'm quite sure that you're no exception to the norm."

The court was told Bazin met Figueroa three months earlier and agreed to teach him to sail and skipper the yacht as he had recently qualified.

At a previous hearing David Beard, defending, said Bazin became suspicious part-way through their journey when he spotting a number of Asian people on board.

Recorder Gower QC said he accepted Bazin only became involved in the scheme in order to gain experience in skippering a vessel.

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