French Councillor And Son Jailed For Smuggling Immigrants

French councillor and son jailed for smuggling immigrants

A French councillor has been jailed for three years and her son for five years for assisting the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the UK on board a ferry.
Published: 3:10PM GMT 05 Feb 2010

Christiane Chocat, 51, a councillor in her home town of Lumigny-Nesles-Ormeaux in France, was charged with concealing 16 Vietnamese immigrants inside a vehicle which arrived on board a ferry at Portsmouth ferryport in Hampshire on October 1 last year.

She pleaded guilty to the offence of assisting unlawful entry into a European Member State, contrary to section 25(1) and (6) of the Immigration Act 1971 at Portsmouth Crown Court last month.

Her son, Benjamin Chocat, 20, of Choisy-Le-Roi, France, also pleaded guilty to the same offence.

The mother and son brought a hire van on the Normandy Express ferry from Cherbourg with 16 Vietnamese nationals inside.

The 13 men and three women were hidden behind boxes of shrimp noodles.

The immigrants were detained by Hampshire Police and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) returned them to France the same evening.

The court heard that Chocat had agreed to smuggle the illegal immigrants into the UK for a payment of 24,000 euros and his mother had assisted him out of a “misguided loyalty to her son”.

Martyn Booth, prosecuting, said immigration officers at Portsmouth Continental Ferryport became suspicious of the van when they spotted condensation droplets forming on the inside roof of the vehicle.

He said the UKBA officers searched the vehicle and discovered the hidden immigrants, aged between 15 and their mid-30s, who were returned to France the same day.

Mr Booth added that ventilation holes had been made in the wheel arches and the van partition to help the stowaways breathe.

Michael McGoldrick, representing Mr Chocat, said he carried out the smuggling run because he fell into financial difficulties after he lost his job last year.

He added that his client, who had no previous convictions, felt “heartache” for getting his mother, who was also of good character, involved.

Daniel Riley, representing Mrs Chocat, said she had received numerous statements of support which described her as “devoted to her family”, “generous” and “essentially very kind”.

He said: “She is described as a woman who never thinks of herself and would do everything for others and that has worked against her in this instance as a weakness.”

Sentencing Mrs Chocat, Judge Roger Hetherington said: “I accept your involvement was subsidiary to your son and you may not have expected any financial reward.

“Your motive appears to be a totally misguided sense of loyalty to your son.”


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