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Three men who helped to smuggle migrants across the English Channel in small boats have been .

Albanians Banet Tershana and Klodian Shenaj, and British national Desmond Rice were a combined total of more than 14 years after orchestrating two crossings in October last year, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Nottingham Crown Court heard on Friday that the group ferried migrants to the UK from Belgium and France in small boats despite having too few and inadequate lifejackets.

A fourth man, Albanian Jetmir Myrtaj, will be sentenced at the same court in connection with the same incidents on Tuesday.

Tershana was the organiser, financier and collected payment from migrants, Shenaj was the conduit mainland -based facilitators and the UK, and Myrtaj and Rice were integral to facilitating the crossings

Derek Evans, NCA

NCA branch commander Derek Evans said: “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 mainland -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 smugglers were first spotted offloading migrants by a coastguard plane in Joss Bay, Kent, on October 8 2022, with the same location used for a second crossing on October 23.

Myrtaj, 45, of Kirby Road, Leicester, had used a false identity to moor a rigid-hulled inflatable boat named Orca in Brightlingsea, Essex, and repair the boat to make it seaworthy for the crossings.

Prior to the smuggling run on October 8, Rice, 47, of Meadowcroft, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, had also purchased a second boat named Aquaholic for £22,500, which he and Shenaj, 49, of Broxtowe Street, Nottingham, also moored in Brightlingsea.

After the run on October 23, a third crossing was attempted on October 29, when Rice gave a kayak to two men to access the Aquaholic.

The pair, aged 35 and 45, then travelled to Belgium but were arrested by Belgian authorities as they attempted to load 12 migrants onto the boat.

Only six life jackets were available, which were later found to be unsuitable for use at sea, and the pair will face trial in the country at a later date.

Rice, Myrtaj, Shenaj and Tershana, 52, of Harmsworth Crescent, Hove were then all arrested October 2022 and March 2023.

Tershana pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration on April 17 and was sentenced to five years in prison by Judge Stuart Rafferty KC.

Myrtaj pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration to the UK on the first day of trial at Nottingham Crown Court on July 31, with Rice and Shenaj pleading guilty to the same charge the next day.

Rice was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, with Shenaj for four years and nine months.

A fifth man, Arsen Feci, 44, also of Broxtowe Street, Nottingham, was due to face trial with his co-defendants but did not appear, and is believed to have fled abroad.

Anyone with information as to his whereabouts is urged to contact the NCA.

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