A people smuggler has been jailed after his yacht ran aground in Devon with eight illegal Albanian immigrants on board.

James Wisbey tried to bring the migrants across the English Channel from France through heavy seas during a gale last December, but was wrecked off Teignmouth.

The eight passengers clambered ashore on a small beach and crossed the main Paddington-to-Penzance railway line before climbing a cliff path.

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Coastguards had been monitoring the boat and police and immigration officials arrested them at the top. They were all hungry, dehydrated and terrified.

They told police they had paid 20,000 euros apiece for the illegal journey and thought they were going to die during the passage.

Wisbey and paid crewwoman Faye Miles were both arrested on the beach, where he joked ‘next time I’ll do it properly and not take any short cuts’.

Faye Miles took up the offer of work while homeless in Plymouth
Faye Miles took up the offer of work while homeless in Plymouth

There were no lifejackets and minimal safety equipment about the 27-foot sloop Sea Crystal, which had just one double sleeping berth, a small saloon, and a single marine toilet.

Police found no evidence that the migrants had any access to food or water during the voyage. One of them had tried to call for help shortly before the shipwreck but Wisbey could be heard telling them to hang up and grabbing the phone.

Footage from a Coastguard helicopter taken a few hours earlier showed the boat wallowing in massive seas under power alone and struggling to make progress against the wind and waves.

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Wisbey had tried to make an earlier trip in March but been rescued off Alderney before he could reach the pick-up point in France. He has previously served a jail sentence in Belgium for people smuggling.

A judge at Exeter Crown Court described Wisbey’s actions as cynical, appalling and unforgiveable as he jailed him at Exeter Crown Court.

Wisbey, aged 55, of West Hoe, Plymouth, and Miles, aged 38, of no fixed address, Plymouth, admitted conspiracy to break immigration rules. He was jailed for five years, four months, and Miles for two years.

Judge Timothy Rose told Wisbey:”You placed your passengers in great danger. You did it for money and personal reward in cynical and very dangerous circumstances.

“Your motivation was purely financial. These were strangers and there was no humanitarian dimension to this whatsoever.

“I am quite satisfied you played an extremely important role in these arrangements. You were the one providing transport and taking all the risks with other people’s lives.

“You had an important and critical role in endangering the lives of yourself, Miles, and the hapless passengers.

“You were not involved in making the arrangements, but the fact you were prepared to engage in the way you did in this appalling offence was unforgiveable and requires a deterrent sentence.”

James Wisbey had tried to make an earlier trip but had to be rescued
James Wisbey had tried to make an earlier trip but had to be rescued

The judge ordered an investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act which will result in the forfeiture of the yacht and any other assets which can be traced.

Miss Rachel Drake, prosecuting, said Wisbey bought the Sea Crystal for £3,500 and tried to use it for an earlier smuggling trip in March 2020, but ended up being rescued off Alderney and towed back to Plymouth.

Phone records showed he stayed in contact with Albanian organiser Indrit Bahrani and received a £1,000 down payment before he set off in December.

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He arrived in France on December 12 and was in the Channel with the migrants by the morning of December 14. He beached at Horse Cove, Teignmouth at 4.11pm and he and Miles remained with the boat.

The passengers scrambled ashore, across the railway line and up the cliff, where they were arrested and said they had paid 20,000 euros but not been given food or water.

A video taken inside the boat showed it was in very basic condition with no space for the passengers to sleep.

The 27-foot sloop Sea Crystal ran aground off Horse Cove in Teignmouth
The 27-foot sloop Sea Crystal ran aground off Horse Cove in Teignmouth (Image: Devon and Cornwall Police)

Miss Drake said Wisbey, originally from Scotland, had a long history of offending including drug running in Turkey and people smuggling in Belgium.

Mr Jason Beal, for Wisbey, said he had nothing to do with the shore-based part of the conspiracy and his only role was as skipper. He is an experienced yachtsman and former fisherman who tempted to use his yacht for the expedition.

Mr Deni Matthews, for Miles, said she had a history of drug abuse and petty offending and had taken up the offer of work when she was homeless in Plymouth.

Barhani, aged 32, of London, will be sentenced on September 24 if a dispute about his role in the scheme can be resolve