'Integral' member of people smuggling gang jailed for role in English Channel crossings

A fourth member of a people smuggling gang which brought people to the UK from France and Belgium has been jailed.

Jetmir Myrtaj, 35, was handed a four and a half year sentence for his role in organising the "dangerous" trips across the English Channel, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

The 35-year-old, of Kirby Road, Leicester, was jailed at Nottingham Crown Court on Tuesday after three co-defendants - fellow Albanians Banet Tershana and Klodian Shenaj, and British national Desmond Rice - were sentenced on Friday.

A fifth man, Arsen Feci, 44, also of Broxtowe Street, Nottingham, was due to face trial with the gang but did not appear.

He is believed to have fled abroad.

NCA branch commander Derek Evans said on Friday: "Our investigators worked tirelessly to identify members of this people-smuggling network and take action before they could arrange any more dangerous crossings.

"Tershana was the organiser, financier and collected payment from migrants, Shenaj was the conduit between mainland Europe-based facilitators and the UK, and Myrtaj and Rice were integral to facilitating the crossings.

"Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA, and we will continue to target people smugglers both in the UK and overseas."

The NCA said that the smugglers were first spotted offloading migrants by a coastguard plane in Joss Bay, Kent, on 8 October 2022, with the same location used for a second crossing on 23 October.

Myrtaj had moored a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, named Orca, under a false name in Brightlingsea, Essex, and carried out repairs to make it seaworthy.

The group had also purchased a second boat which they stored at the same location, which when stopped by Belgian authorities was found to have only six inadequate lifejackets when 12 migrants, including children, were aboard.

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Rice, Myrtaj, Shenaj and Tershana were then all arrested between October 2022 and March 2023.

Tershana, 52, of Harmsworth Crescent, Hove, East Sussex, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration on April 17, while Myrtaj pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration to the UK on the first day of trial at Nottingham Crown Court on 31 July.

Rice, 47, of Meadowcroft, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and Shenaj, 49, of Broxtowe Street, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to the same charge the next day, with all four sentenced by Judge Stuart Rafferty KC.