Three arrested off Devon coast as part of people smuggling investigation

Three arrested off Devon coast as part of people smuggling investigation

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of people smuggling and eight migrants have been safely detained following an operation off the coast of Devon yesterday (Monday December 14).

The arrests were made as part of an ongoing investigation by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU) supported by Border Force, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Devon and Cornwall Police and Immigration Enforcement.

The vessel, a 27 foot yacht, ran aground off Horse Cove in Teignmouth at 4.10pm.  A man and woman from Devon were arrested on suspicion of people smuggling at the scene, with a further man arrested at his home in Essex on suspicion of the same offence later in the evening.

The migrants – one woman and seven men aged between 20 and 40-years-old – are still at a centre set up by Devon and Cornwall Police.  Their nationalities are not yet confirmed.

The vessel has been recovered to Teignmouth Harbour this morning.

Det Supt Tina Robinson, Head of SW ROCU, said: “People are just another money making commodity to organised criminals, but operations like this show just how determined we are to work together and ensure such attempts to exploit migrants for profit whilst breaching our borders are not successful. 

“Our investigation is obviously in its early stages, but I’d like to thank Devon and Cornwall Police, Border Force, the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and the CPS for their support to date.”

Chief Superintendent Nikki Leaper, South Devon Commander for Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “Two of the passengers on the boat were initially taken to Torbay Hospital as a precaution.  All eight passengers were looked after overnight at a centre set up locally, with support from local officers and staff, as well as Teignbridge Council, British Red Cross, Devon County Council and the NHS.  The individuals’ welfare is our priority and they are being accommodated, fed, and any additional support is being offered.  They are also assisting us with our enquiries.

“I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in looking after the passengers as well as those who assisted with responding to the incident including our officers and staff, HM Coastguard, Teignmouth Harbourmaster, and National Police Air Service.  

“I would also like to thank the public for their support in assisting police.”

Steve Whitton, Head of Border Force Maritime Command, said: “Border Force cutters monitored the yacht as it made its way towards the UK.  This ensured that officers from Border Force and the police were in the right place at the right time to move in quickly to secure arrests.

“This is an excellent example of UK law enforcement working together to protect our borders and tackle organised immigration crime.”

The NCA’s South West Regional Organised Crime Coordinator, Karen Parsons said: “People smugglers treat migrants as a commodity to be exploited and profited from, which is why tackling the criminal networks involved in organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA.

“Working with our partners is crucial to this and we continue to assist the SW ROCU as part of this investigation.”

The man and woman from Devon remain in police custody.  The second man has been released under investigation. 

If you live near the coast, waterways or a rural airfield and see anything suspicious please report it to your local police or Crimestoppers quoting ‘Kraken’ (if near a waterway) or ‘Pegasus’ (if at an airfield).