Smuggler downplays role in Teignmouth migrant drama

A judge has ordered an investigative hearing to decide the role played by a smuggler in a scheme to bring eight illegal migrants to Devon on a yacht.

Indrit Barhani was arrested ashore near where the 27ft Sea Crystal wrecked as his skipper and companion attempted to reach Teignmouth from France.

The migrants were crammed into the small yacht and were terrified of drowning when he was forced ashore at Horse Cove, Teignmouth, during a storm last December.

Read more: Shipwrecked smuggler jailed after disembarking terrified illegal immigrants

Skipper James Wisbey and crew Faye Miles have previously been jailed for their role in the scheme and Barhani has also admitted a conspiracy to break immigration rules.

He has filed a plea that downplays his role, which the prosecution rejects, and a special hearing in Exeter Crown Court will be held on November 8 to settle the matter.

Barhani, 33, from London, says he was only passing messages to Wisbey from Albanian gangsters who were controlling the operation from Belgium.

The prosecution said he recruited Wisbey and was the go-between who arranged contact between him and the gang in Belgium to organize his ill-fated trip.

Wisbey, 55, of West Hoe, Plymouth, and Miles, 38, homeless, Plymouth, admitted to conspiring to break immigration rules.

He was jailed for five years, four months and Miles for two years at a previous hearing in Exeter in July.

James Wisbey and Faye Miles

Judge Timothy Rose ordered a fact-finding process called a Newton hearing to be held on November 8, likely followed by a conviction.

The Sea Crystal’s last voyage was tracked by police and the Border Agency as the overloaded and poorly maintained boat waded off the coast of Devon.

He was caught on camera by a police helicopter and drone as he approached the coast with eight terrified Albanians on board.

The footage shows the malnourished sailboat struggling in rough seas under the engine alone and with the sails rolled up.

Other images show basic conditions in the cabin the eight migrants were crammed into on the very dangerous journey from France.

James Wisbey smuggled migrants by sea to Teignmouth
James Wisbey smuggled migrants by sea to Teignmouth

Immigration officers and police waited atop the cliffs at Horse Cove, Teignmouth, as terrified, starving and scruffy migrants staggered ashore.

They used body cameras to film them as they asked for food and water and told officers they had paid 20,000 euros each for the illegal trip.

The eight passengers disembarked at a small beach and crossed the main railway line from Paddington to Penzance before climbing a cliff path.

Wisbey and paid teammate Faye Miles were both pulled over on the beach, where he joked “next time I’ll do it right and I won’t take any shortcuts.”

There were no life jackets and minimal safety equipment on the yacht which only had a double berth, a small saloon and a single marine toilet.

Police found no evidence that the migrants had access to food or water during the journey.

One of them had tried to call for help shortly before the sinking, but Wisbey could be heard telling them to hang up and grab the phone.

Conditions inside the sea crystal that was used by ferryman James Wisbey

Justice Rose called Wisbey’s behavior cynical, appalling and unforgivable when he jailed him in July.

He told Wisbey: “You put your passengers in great danger. You did it for money and personal reward under cynical and very dangerous circumstances.

“Your motivation was purely financial. They were foreigners and there was no humanitarian dimension to that.

“I am quite pleased that you played an extremely important role in these arrangements. It was you who provided the transport and took all the risk with the lives of others.

“You have played an important and critical role in endangering your life, that of Miles and the hapless passengers.

“You were not involved in making the arrangements, but the fact that you were prepared to engage in the way you did in this appalling offense was unforgivable and requires a deterrent sentence.”

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