Gang jailed for luxury people-smuggling racket
Tuesday December 19, 2006
While less fortunate migrants huddled in the backs of lorries, a gang of “club class” people smugglers used a light plane to ferry members of a Turkish criminal clan into Britain, a court heard yesterday.
In the first known case of an aircraft being used to evade Britain's border controls, members of a drug-trafficking clan entered the country by paying 6,700 for a seat on a private plane.
Taking off from France or Belgium, the smugglers' Piper Cherokee six-seater would touch down at secluded airstrips in southern English counties where a car would be waiting to speed the passengers to London. The gang brought around 40 people to Britain before being arrested when a police helicopter pursued their plane across Kent. They made at least nine cross-Channel trips over three months in 2004.
The ringleader, Mensur Hassan, 35, was jailed for 10 years at Middlesex Guildhall crown court yesterday. The pilot and owner of the plane, Wyatt Anderson, 49, who was paid 4,000 for each trip, was jailed for seven years. Police checks showed Anderson had 92 previous convictions, mainly for fraud and deception.
Judge Roger Chapple said: “Often illegal entrants are exposed to very real danger. That cannot be said here – this was 'club class' people smuggling for those who could afford it.”
Several of the passengers were relatives of Abdullah Baybasin, 45, the head of a multibillion-pound drugs empire who was jailed for 22 years last May. But other illegal immigrants also flew on the plane and were found low-paid jobs among London's Turkish community.
The case exposed a loophole in Britain's air security: planning permission for a runway is needed only if it is used for more than 28 days a year. There are at least 500 unlicensed runways nationwide.
The smugglers' plane flew to remote airstrips in Kent, West Sussex and Cambridgeshire, where passengers would be picked up and taken to Turkish cafes in north London.
Detective Inspector Nigel Kent, who led the investigation for the National Crime Squad, said: “Some of these places are very obscure and rural, and can't be seen from the road. Anderson shows how easy it is to fly wherever you like ,whenever you want to, and get away with it on many occasions.
“He was never asked by [air traffic] controllers where he was going.”
Four other members of the gang received sentences of between eight months and three years yesterday.
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