Charges dropped against 69 migrants found off coast
- Credit: Archant
Charges against 69 migrants found on a boat off the Norfolk coast have been dropped after a legal error.
The passengers, all from Albania, were arrested last month after a 30m fishing trawler was intercepted by Border Force officers in the sea off Great Yarmouth.
The migrants were detained on suspicion of offences under the Immigration Act - but plans to prosecute them have been dropped due to a failure to meet legal requirements during their arrest.
A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson said: “After careful consideration, we have decided our legal tests for prosecution were not met in relation to the 69 passengers.
"Proceedings commenced by Immigration Enforcement will therefore be discontinued and any convictions returned to court.”
During the bust on November 17, Border Force cutters stopped the boat and took it under control, before escorting the vessel into Harwich harbour in the early hours of the following morning.
Three crew members - a Latvian national and two Ukrainian nationals - were arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.
The CPS confirmed that charges have been authorised against those three people.
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A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the proceedings against the 69 people charged with illegal entry will be discontinued and we are working with the CPS urgently to resolve the issues raised by this case.
"The immigration cases will be dealt with as quickly as possible and removal action will be pursued against anyone found to have no right to remain in the UK.
“Knowingly entering the UK without leave is a criminal offence and anyone who has committed such an offence should be prepared to face prosecution.”
The Home Office said it was "pleased" the CPS had authorised the three facilitation charges.
The boat, which had travelled from Ostend area of Belgium, was caught off the coast following a joint operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), Immigration Enforcement and Border Force.
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, has been contacted for comment.