English Channel people smugglers could get LIFE sentences

English Channel people smugglers could get LIFE sentences under plans from Priti Patel to crack down on the trade

  • Priti Patel introducing life sentences for those smuggling people across Channel
  • Miss Patel concerned that penalties being handed down by the courts too short
  • Home Office have scaled up the use of criminal offences against migrants 

Priti Patel will introduce life sentences for people smugglers in a new bid to tackle the Channel migrant crisis.

Maximum sentences will increase from the current 14 years under legislation to be brought forward by the Home Secretary in the next few weeks.

Miss Patel is concerned that penalties being handed down by the courts are too short, The Times reported.

The current average length of a jail term for ‘assisting illegal immigration’ is three years.

The move comes just months after it was revealed a high-tech command centre, situated at a secret location in Dover, Kent, had been set up by the Home Secretary to help catch people smugglers ferrying migrants. 

Priti Patel is concerned that penalties being handed down by the courts are too short and will introduce life sentences for people smugglers

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘While criminal gangs continue to put lives at risk, it is right we consider every option to stop their exploitation of people.

‘The Government will set out further details in the coming weeks.’

The Home Office has scaled up the use of criminal offences against migrants who are seen at the helm of dinghies and small boats. 

On February 18, a Kuwaiti man who steered an overcrowded boat across the Channel with 11 other migrants on board was jailed for three years and nine months.

Mahmoud Al Anzi, 24, had denied a charge of assisting unlawful immigration to the UK during his trial at Canterbury Crown Court.

A Home Office source said tougher sentences would be intended to ‘send a clear message’ that the law would treat smugglers on a par with those suspected of serious violent crimes.

Yesterday it emerged that more than 500 migrants have arrived in Britain across the Channel since the start of 2021 – nearly double the rate seen in the same period last year. On Saturday alone, 87 migrants made the perilous journey.

Although the number of crossings depends on the weather, the surge could indicate that an Anglo-French agreement to tackle the crisis, signed in November, has failed to have a major impact. 

A record 8,410 migrants made the crossing last year, dwarfing 2019’s total of 1,850.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making these dangerous crossings.

In January it was revealed that a command centre at a secret location in Dover would see the British authorities collaborate with law enforcement in Calais to carry out increased air, land and sea surveillance.

A Border Force vessel arrives at Dover Marina and carries a group of migrants to shore

A man carries a young girl as a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent

The command headquarters will be led by the government’s small boats commander Dan O’Mahoney who was appointed to collaborate with the French to tackle Channel crossings in August last year.

Speaking about the new centre Mr O’Mahoney said: ‘Significant steps were taken last year, including increased surveillance and more patrols on beaches, which have made crossing the Channel in this dangerous and unnecessary way harder than ever.

‘Improved intelligence sharing has meant that the French prevented more than 6,000 attempts last year, but we know that more needs to be done.

‘By setting up the new command cell we are making the UK’s and French law enforcement response more agile than it has ever been.

‘It will ensure we have the right capability in the right place at the right time to stop boats from leaving French beaches and to deal with people who do make it into the water, protecting lives and bringing the criminals responsible to justice.’  

The move, which forms part of an enhanced Government operation under the codename Altair, came as figures revealed that 8,417 migrants made the treacherous journey on small boats and dinghies to reach the UK’s shores in 2020. 

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