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Monday, 11 September 2017

Jail for mother-of-four caught attempting to smuggle Vietnamese migrants into UK

Written by Peter Cary

A mother-of-four who attempted to smuggle 12 Vietnamese migrants into Britain broke down in court as she was jailed alongside her former boyfriend.

Katy Bethel and Aaron Harris, both 28, were stopped on July 4 2015 at the Eurotunnel check-in at Coquelles, near Calais, as they tried to re-enter the country with the stowaways hidden in the back of a Mercedes Sprinter van.

Border Force officers discovered the group of five women, four men and three youngsters under the age of 16, hiding in cramped conditions within stacks of tyres as Bethel and Harris sat in front.

Bethel was six months pregnant with her youngest child at the time, and told officers they been visiting France for a day trip to the beach.

Bethel, of Gillingham, Kent, wept in the dock at Maidstone Crown Court on Monday, as Judge Philip Statman sentenced her to two years and nine months for her part in the operation.

She had been found guilty by a jury at an earlier hearing.

Harris, who lived with Bethel at the time, had previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Bethel maintained her innocence throughout her trial, and refused to answer questions when probed by officers during her interrogation.

The court heard that the passengers had been found in a "dishevelled" condition in the back of the van, in which Bethel had been the passenger while Harris drove.

Judge Philip Statman said: "They were dishevelled, tired and distressed.

He continued: "It goes without saying that assisting unlawful immigration into the UK is big business," adding: "This is, in my judgment, a sophisticated enterprise."

Bethel sat silently while mitigation heard that she had been described by probation officers as a "naive" party to a larger crime.

But while Judge Statman accepted she had likely been used as a decoy to fool immigration officials at the border, he said the "evil act" of smuggling immigrants into the country must be met with a heavy deterrent.

He said: "This evil act of bringing people in from abroad would continue to take place and that is where the deterrent must hit home."

Bethel had been granted conditional bail after being found guilty of her part in the smuggling in August, so that she could arrange for the care of her four young children, aged between one and eight.

Judge Statman said: "I am very mindful indeed, as any judge would have to be, of taking a mother away from her children in need."

But he ruled that anything other than a custodial sentence could give smuggling gangs the impression that using pregnant women might be met with more lenient punishments when they are caught.

He said: "Bearing in mind all that I have to deal with today, I reduce the sentence as much as I can.

"It is not an easy task for me and I well understand the pain that will be imposed on you."

Assistant Director David Fairclough, from the Home Office Immigration Enforcement and Financial Investigation unit, said: "As these sentences demonstrate, abusing immigration laws and gambling with people's safety are taken very seriously by the courts.

"Anyone thinking of doing the same should take this case as a warning. Working with our colleagues in Border Force, we will catch you and ensure that justice is served."

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