TWO MEN whose attempt to smuggle 18 Albanian immigrants into the UK came close to tragedy when their boat started sinking, have been jailed.
Robert Stilwell, 33, and Mark Stribling, 35, both admitted breaching immigration law by illegally attempting to help 18 migrants into the country on a boat that had to be rescued in the English Channel.
Stilwell, who won Commonwealth gold in judo in 2000, and his school friend Stribling were to be paid £2,000 each to make the journey to the south of Calais and transport the migrants - who had paid 6,000 euro (£5,061) each for the crossing, Maidstone Crown Court heard.
The migrants - including 15 men, one woman and two children - had waded into the water before climbing aboard the white rigid-hulled inflatable boat (Rhib) on the evening of May 28 this year.
They had to be rescued by the Coastguard and the crew of HMC Valiant in the early hours of May 29 after their boat lost power one-and-a-half miles from shore.
Stribling, of Hilltop Farm, Farningham, near Swanley in Kent, was jailed for four years and eight months and Stilwell, of Stanley Close, Greenhithe, was sentenced to four years and four months in prison.
Stilwell, who the court heard only worked part time since suffering a career-ending injury, appeared stunned by the sentence and mouthed “tell them I love them” as he was sent down, while Stribling smirked.
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.”
The boat lost power shortly after they set off from France and had been drifting for almost three hours, taking on water.
A video from the search and rescue helicopter played to the court showed a migrant using a small container to try to bail out the boat, while Stribling could be seen remonstrating with other migrants.
Kate Hunter, defending Stilwell, said the father-of-one was “remorseful”. She said a severe injury had ended his judo careet
“As a result of that, money difficulties came into Mr Stilwell’s life. Neil Guest, defending Stribling, said his client was unemployed and had one five-year-old child and another child on the way with his girlfriend of 35 years.
Mr Guest said: “£2,000 to him was some degree of salvation.”