Kent

'Hundreds of calls' made between Kent smuggling gang

Police surveillance of the boat being purchased in Exmouth Image copyright Sbna
Image caption Police surveillance of the boat being bought

A man accused of smuggling illegal immigrants into the UK made hundreds of calls to two men who admit being a part of the conspiracy, a court heard.

Four Vietnamese men were smuggled into Walmer, Kent, in August 2018, while undercover police officers watched.

Thomas Mason had nine mobile phones when he was arrested. He denies conspiracy to facilitate the illegal entry of foreign nationals into the UK.

The 36-year-old told jurors it was "possible" he called the guilty men.

Mr Mason, from Eyeworth near Biggleswade, told St Albans Crown Court his calls to Nazmi Velia and Egert Kajaci were only made as part of his efforts to acquire a boat, "do it up", and sell it on.

'Cover their tracks'

The court heard SIM cards between the parties were repeatedly used and discarded, some within the space of a few hours.

Prosecuting, Wayne Cleaver said to Mr Mason: "People who get involved in this sort of thing are aware it's important to cover their tracks."

One of Mr Mason's SIM cards was used for 11 days and 93 calls were made to Velia, and 34 to Kajaci.

Another, active for six days, saw Velia called 67 times and Kajaci 54 times.

Mr Mason said: "They may be criminals but that doesn't make me one."

Image copyright sbna
Image caption Police surveillance of the boat being used

Mr Mason is on trial alongside Hoa Thi Nguyen, 49, of Bisterne Avenue, Walthamstow, and her partner Chi Tan Huynh, 41, of Pickford's Wharf, Hoxton.

All deny conspiracy to facilitate the illegal entry of foreign nationals into the UK.

The court heard the operation was active between 1 April and 3 August last year, and was being watched by undercover police officers.

On 3 August at 01:00 BST four migrants landed on the Kent beach, with Mr Mason allegedly the pilot of the dinghy.

Four men previously pleaded guilty to their role in the conspiracy:

  • Nazmi Velia, 32, of Park Street Lane, St Albans
  • Egert Kajaci, 35, of Turner Drive, Oxford
  • Erald Gapi, 27, of Marine Tower, Deptford
  • Wayne Lee, 46, of Grasmere Close, Watford

The trial continues.

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