Pilot who joked 'I normally get arrested for drugs' jailed for his part in Albanian people smuggling plot

A career criminal has been jailed for his role in a plot to smuggle four Albanians into the UK by flying them to a small airfield in Northamptonshire.

Richard Styles, 53, was sentenced alongside two other men after a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation foiled their plot in March last year.

Styles, a qualified pilot, had arranged with fellow aviation buff Silvano Turchet, 68, to rent a six-seater Piper Seneca for £1,500 from an airfield in Lincolnshire.

The plane was flown to Deenethorpe Airfield near Corby, where it was stored in a hanger which Turchet had paid for.

On 23 March, Styles flew to Belgium, where the four passengers were waiting. It is believed that he had been in contact with an Albanian known as 'Tim K' who arranged the Belgian end of the deal.

When the plane returned to the UK the next day, an NCA surveillance team was waiting and swooped on Styles, who joked to them: "I normally get arrested for drugs, so it's a bit strange."

The Albanian group was swiftly detained by Northants Police, who were working with the NCA, in a taxi which was being driven by Vijayakumar Sivakumar, who was also arrested.

The migrants were handed over to immigration authorities.

Sivakumar, 43, had prior convictions for trying to smuggle people into the UK in the boot of his car. Phone records showed he had been in contact with Tim K in the run-up to the flight.

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Styles had previously been convicted for using a plane to smuggle ecstasy tablets out of Belgium and drop cannabis into Jersey in 2003 while on the run from Belgian authorities.

He was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2006, and it is believed that he met Turchet while imprisoned.

The pair were also arrested by Dutch authorities in 2017 in connection with another people smuggling enterprise, for which Styles would be convicted in his absence.

Turchet was arrested at his home in Nottingham in July 2022 by NCA investigators. He denied knowledge of the plot, but phone data put him near Deenethorpe Airfield on 24 March and showed he'd called Styles nine times.

All three were charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law, which Styles admitted to at a hearing on 8 August 2022.

Turchet pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial, while Sivakumar was found guilty by a jury after a five-day trial at Leicester Crown Court in February 2023.

On 28 April, a judge at Leicester sentenced Styles to seven years in prison, Turchet to seven-and-a-half years, and Sivakumar to four-and-a-half years.

NCA Regional Head of Investigations Jacque Beer said: "Styles was a career criminal who previously used his piloting skills to move consignments of drugs around Europe. On this occasion he was offering a luxury end to end service, bringing people into the UK using a private plane.

"His comments to my officers show that he considered getting arrested nothing more than an occupational hazard.

"People smugglers use a range of methods to try and breach UK border controls, and we are determined to do all we can to stop them. Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA."