Four men were jailed for a smuggling operation in which 29 Vietnamese citizens, including 17 children, were crammed into a dilapidated yacht and transported from France to Cornwall.
The amazing harbor workers in Newlyn’s fishing port telephoned the police while Vietnamese men, women and teenagers were loaded into a windowless van and driven away. The agents tracked down the van and intercepted it on the M5 highway in Devon, more than 100 miles away.
All but one of the adults who later vanished and the police fear that they have fallen into the hands of organized criminal groups and may be forced to deal with cannabis farms or work in the sex industry. Some children are being treated in the UK, but others are also missing.
Among the four convicts are Frank Walling, 73, and his cousin Glen Bennett, 55, both from Lancashire who have served long prison terms for drug trafficking. Walling commanded the yacht while Bennett was his teammate.
Walling’s previous exploits included an unfortunate mission to smuggle cannabis from Morocco to the UK on a leaky boat. At one point during this mission he lifted an elevator with a tourist on a pedal boat when he had to make a call to the shore and then ran aground in the Lune River in Lancashire. He was also jailed in Portugal for smuggling. Walling and Bennett were both jailed for four and a half years.
Friends Keith Plummer, 64, and Jon Ransom, 63, from Kent, were in charge of transporting the Vietnamese people from Cornwall by road, possibly to south-east England. They have a long criminal history of burglary and dishonesty. Plummer was sentenced to 40 months and Ransom to four and a half years.
Police agree that the four are not in charge of the operation but believe it may have been controlled by a person known simply as Mark 3, a name found in the memory of one of their phones.
Officers suspect that this was not the first time that some gang members smuggled people into Cornwall, but this time they were caught because they tricked the trip and arrived during the day rather than under cover of darkness.
Glenn Willcocks of the Devon and Cornwall police said: “We hope the conviction will serve to remind people that they are not goods to be handled like livestock with total disregard for their health and safety.”
The images of the yacht show that her hull was stained and the interior was cramped and dirty. There were bean cans and noodles packets in the closets, a dirty sink and a blocked toilet.
Willcocks said: “The four risked the lives of 29 men, women and children. They were motivated only by the monetary reward – and fortunately nobody paid the final price. “
Truro Crown Court was told that the yacht, the Johan Sebastian, sailed from Roscoff and arrived in Newlyn on the morning of April 12, 2019.
Newlyn fish market worker Dale Frisk watched the Vietnamese people jump from the boat. “They were diving over the wall and into a van,” he said. Frederick Bates, who works on the harbor repairing the fishing nets, added: “It was a really unusual sight, especially at 7 in the morning.”
A gas station worker, William Ives, who served Plummer and Ransom a few hours before the yacht arrived, said he believed he had seen them before, suggesting that this was not their first trip to Newlyn.
Police found 15 nautical charts on the ship that showed different parts of the coasts of northern France and southern England, suggesting once again that this may not have been their first operation.
Most of the Vietnamese people told police and immigration officials that they came to the United Kingdom to improve themselves and traveled across Europe before traveling across the Channel. One had paid £ 1,500 for the trip.
Sentencing the four, Judge Robert Linford said he traded in human misery and exploited “unfortunate” people. He said the operation was well organized, although not particularly sophisticated.
The four men were convicted under section 25 of the Immigration Act: illegal immigration assistance.