By John Ensor • 26 August 2023 • 12:12
Convicted: Banet Tershana and Desmond Rice.
UK authorities’ successful operation in the face of the cross-channel people smuggling crisis.
On 25 August, following a covert National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation, three men were sentenced in connection to a series of people smuggling crossings from France and Belgium to the UK. Albanians Banet Tershana, Klodian Shenaj, Jetmir Myrtaj, and British national Desmond Rice were found guilty.
In October 2022, a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) named Orca was seen by a coastguard plane, offloading migrants in Joss Bay, Kent. This location was used again for another crossing on 23 October. Investigators found that Myrtaj, 45, from Leicester, used a fake identity to moor the Orca in Brightlingsea, Essex, and funded its repairs.
Phone records revealed that Myrtaj was present at the beach during the boat’s arrival on October 9. Officers later traced him, the RHIB pilots, and their route from Essex to the Belgian/French coast.
About a week prior, Rice, 47, from Aylesbury, bought another boat, Aquaholic, for £22,500. Shenaj, 49, from Nottingham, and Rice collected it from Poole, transporting it to Brightlingsea Marina. On 22 October, CCTV footage showed Rice filling 12 canisters with nearly £ 1,000 worth of fuel in Brightlingsea, later transferred to the Aquaholic. GPS data confirmed the boat’s journey to Belgium and its return to the UK. Cell data indicated Shenaj and Tershana were in Essex when the boat came back.
Rice later supplied a kayak to two individuals for boat access. NCA officers, monitoring the group, informed the Belgian Police. The boat was halted near Nieuwpoort on October 29. Two pilots, aged 35 and 45, were detained while trying to board 12 migrants, including a woman and child. The RHIB’s inspection revealed six life jackets, unfit for sea use. These men face charges in Belgium.
Rice’s arrest followed that day. A house search yielded an Aquaholic invoice, registration documents, and the kayak in his van. Officers reviewed extensive CCTV recordings, confirming the group’s involvement in human trafficking. Essex Police’s Marine Unit also shared footage of Myrtaj on the Orca on October 2, further linking him to the pilots.
Shenaj was detained a month later, Tershana in February 2023, and Myrtaj in March 2023. Tershana admitted to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration on April 17. Myrtaj confessed on July 31 at Nottingham Crown Court, with Shenaj and Rice admitting guilt the next day. Tershana was sentenced to five years, Rice to four years six months, and Shenaj to four years nine months on August 25. Myrtaj awaits his sentence on August 29.
NCA Branch Commander Derek Evans stated, ‘Our investigators worked tirelessly to identify members of this people smuggling network and take action before they could arrange any more dangerous crossings. Tershana was the organiser, financier and collected payment from migrants, Shenaj was the conduit between mainland Europe based facilitators and the UK, and Myrtaj and Rice were integral to facilitating the crossings.
‘Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA, and we will continue to target people smugglers both in the UK and overseas.’
The NCA seeks information on Arsen Feci, 44, from Nottingham. After being bailed in March 2023, he fled. He’s believed to have procured equipment and recruited staff for the crossings.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
When he's not writing for EWN he enjoys gigging in a acoustic duo, looking after their four dogs, four chickens, two cats, and cycling up mountains very slowly.
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