29 Vietnamese people crossed Channel in dirty yacht, jury told

Steven Morris
Photograph: Clive Emson Auctioneers/PA

Twenty-nine Vietnamese nationals, including children, were transported across the Channel to the UK in a dirty, cramped yacht and loaded into a windowless van on a Cornish harbourside, a jury has been told.

Astonished port workers phoned the police, who scrambled a helicopter and cars and intercepted the van on the M5 motorway in Devon, more than 100 miles away.

The jury at Truro crown court was told three men have admitted involvement in the transportation of 29 foreign nationals into the UK contrary to immigration law. A fourth man, Jon Ransom, 63, of Sheerness, Kent, denies the offence.

Opening the case against Ransom, Don Tait, prosecuting, claimed he and three others, Frank Walling and Glen Bennett, from Lancashire, and Keith Plummer, from Kent, were involved in bringing 29 Vietnamese people from France to the UK.

Tait said: “They were brought over in a yacht. Once they had disembarked they were put in the back of a van and transported away from Newlyn. The van was stopped on the M5.”

The court heard that the yacht, the Johan Sebastian, sailed from Roscoff in north-west France and arrived at the fishing port of Newlyn, west Cornwall, on the morning of 12 April.

Tait said the vessel, crewed by Walling and Bennett, tied up in the harbour at about 7am. “To the amazement of locals, a large number of foreign nationals were seen to disembark,” the barrister said.

The Vietnamese men, women and children walked to shore along a pontoon and footbridge and got into the back of of a white van. It was driven off by Plummer and Ransom allegedly followed in a blue Audi TT, the court was told.

The van and the Audi were stopped in Cullompton, Devon, and Plummer and Ransom were arrested. Walling and Bennett had gone for breakfast at the Harbour Cafe in Newlyn, where they were also arrested.

When he was pulled over on the M5, a police officer told Ransom he was being arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.

He told the officer: “What’s it got to do with me?” and continued: “It seems a bit drastic. All I’m doing is driving along the road … There seems to be a lot of people here for me.”

A service station worker, William Ives, who allegedly served Plummer and Ransom the night before they were arrested told the court he had thought they were “average guys on a removal job”.

In a statement read out to the court, Newlyn fish market worker Dale Frisk said he saw the Vietnamese people jumping off the boat and heading to the waiting van. “I counted 28 people,” he said. “They were diving over the wall and into a van.”

Frederick Bates, who works on the harbourside mending fishing nets, said: “This was a really unusual sight, especially at 7am.” He said the people he had seen were “fairly young”.

Tait showed the jury images of the yacht. The hull was stained and the interior cramped and dirty. There were cans of beans and Pot Noodles in cupboards, a stained sink and one blocked toilet.

When he was interviewed by police, Tait said Ransom was “rambling and unclear”. He suggested he had been in Cornwall to book a holiday at a caravan park – but the spot he named was in Somerset rather than Cornwall.

Ransom denies assisting unlawful immigration to an EU country under section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971.

The trial continues.