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  1. ITV Report

Pair jailed for bid to smuggle Albanian immigrants into UK

Mark Stribling and Robert Stilwell were sentenced to a total of nine years for attempting to smuggle 18 migrants into the UK. Credit: Home Office

Two men who tried to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants across the English Channel into the UK have been jailed for a total of nine years.

Mark Stribling, 35, and Robert Stilwell, 33, admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants enter the country on a boat from France.

Sentencing the men, Judge Jeremy Carey, said "a tragedy was averted by a whisker."

Stiblig and Stilwell, both from Kent, were caught after their boat broke down and they had to be rescued in the English Channel.

Stilwell, a former European and Commonwealth judo champion, and Stribling were to be paid £2,000 each to make the journey to the south of Calais and transport the migrants to the UK, Maidstone Crown Court heard.

The 15 men, one woman and two children, who had paid £6,000 each for the crossing, had waded into the water before climbing on board the white rigid inflatable boat (rib) on the evening May 28 this year.

They had to be rescued by the Coastguard and the crew of HMC Valiant after the boat lost power one and a half miles (2.4km) from shore.

Stribling, was jailed for four years and eight months and Stilwell was sentenced to four years and four months in prison.

Stilwell appeared stunned by the sentence and mouthed "Tell them I love them" as he was sent down, while Stribling smirked.

In sentencing, Judge Jeremy Carey said: "This case shows the best and the worst of human characteristics.

"On the part of the rescue services, a real and conspicuous devotion to duty and at considerable risk to themselves.

"On your part, greed, recklessness and deceit and the desire to get easy money.

"In the event, there was a rescue and those who were rescued should be very grateful, as you should be to those who came to your aid."

Both men pleaded guilty on the basis they were the boatmen and not part of the hierarchy of the smuggling operation.

Kate Hunter, defending Stilwell, said the father-of-one was "remorseful" and that he struggled financially.

Neil Guest, defending Stribling said his client had no sailing or baiting experience.

"He was simply, no pun intended, out of his depth," Mr Guest said.