Priti Patel vows to continue pursuing people smugglers responsible for Channel tragedy

Priti Patel has issued a defiant statement after the deaths of 27 people on a small boat in the English Channel last November

Published

The Home Secretary has warned that UK and French authorities will continue to "deliver justice" and pursue the people smugglers responsible for the deaths of 27 people on a small boat in the English Channel last November.

Priti Patel was speaking after 10 suspected people smugglers appeared in court in France, charged with multiple offences, including manslaughter and human trafficking.

The charges follow a week of special enforcement operations on the French side of the Channel, involving French and UK officials, in which 15 people were arrested.

The Home Secretary said such operations would continue in the months ahead and anyone suspected of involvement in last November's Channel tragedy could expect to "feel the full force of the law."

The twenty-seven victims, including seven women, two teenagers and one child, drowned after their boat began sinking almost halfway across the Channel on November 24.

Priti Patel says the UK will continue to 'deliver justice'.
Priti Patel says the UK will continue to 'deliver justice'.

Five people were arrested shortly after the tragedy. But this week's arrests are the "most significant development so far" in what is a "complex and protracted multinational investigation, according to officials.

Since the drownings, UK National Crime Agency officers have mounted a joint operation alongside the French border police unit OCRIEST to target those suspected to have been involved in organising the small boat crossing.

The NCA said its officers "based in the UK and internationally, worked with colleagues in France and other international partners to provide evidence to identify those who were arrested in France."

Among those arrested in this week's operation were foreign nationals from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq.

The NCA said they were "suspected of being part of a network of facilitators who organised places on the boat for a number of those who died."

More migrants continue to risk everything to cross the British Channel.
More migrants continue to risk everything to cross the British Channel.

Priti Patel said: "My thoughts continue to be with the families of all of those who tragically lost their lives in this horrific incident.

"The NCA and other agencies across the UK and France will continue their tireless work to deliver justice for the victims and their families by identifying those responsible and ensuring they feel the full force of the law.

“By working together, and through the tough new domestic measures we have just brought into law, we will crack down on the evil people smugglers in our efforts to prevent any more loss of life in the Channel.”

The Home Secretary's comments come at the end of a month which saw more than 3,000 people cross the English Channel in small boats.

3,136 made the journey in 76 boats in June, according to official figures. Nearly 13,000 have now crossed in the first half of this year.

NCA Deputy Director of Organised Immigration Crime, Andrea Wilson, said: “The events of last November were a tragedy, but in that time our resolve to bring those responsible for these deaths to justice has not diminished.

“We have worked closely with our French partners to identify those who we suspect were involved, and that joint investigation continues.

“Many of those involved in organising these dangerous crossings operate outside the UK, so it is vital we work closely with law enforcement partners in France and beyond to target them.

“This includes having NCA officers based overseas, sharing intelligence and working side by side on joint investigations, as we have done in this month."

Six of the ten suspects arrested this week have been remanded in custody after an initial court appearance. Four others have been released on strict bail conditions.