Man denies smuggling 29 migrants on yacht

A Kent man accused of helping to smuggle dozens of Vietnamese into the UK has gone on trial in Cornwall. Jon Ransom, 63, of Coats Avenue, Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey, denied assisting unlawful immigration to an EU country when he appeared at Truro Crown Court on Wednesday.

Police board yacht at Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall. Picture: Greg Martin

He is one of four men who were arrested and jointly charged in April after a yacht carrying 29 Vietnamese including women and children docked at Newlyn harbour, near Penzance and raised residents' suspicions. Keith Plummer, 62, of Scrapsgate Road, Minster, has already pleaded guilty along with Frank Walling, 72, from Colne, Lancashire, and Glen Bennett, 55, from Burnley, Lancashire.

The court heard that bemused residents of the historic fishing village watched as the Vietnamese immigrants piled out of the boat and were bundled into the back of a white van without windows.

The run-down vessel had pulled into the harbour after sailing across the Channel, a jury was told. Stunned fisherman looked on as the group was marched down a pontoon towards a car park then driven away.

Police swoop on a van on the M5 at Cullompton, Devon. Picture: NPAS

Several witnesses called police who tracked the van as it travelled along the M5 motorway before stopping it near the Cullompton services in Devon. Cops found the Vietnamese crammed on board.

The yacht was also raided and four men were arrested under the Modern Slavery Act.

Don Tait, prosecuting, said: "At about 7am, it was daylight by that time, locals in Newlyn harbour observed a massive yacht in the harbour. "To the amazement of the observing locals a large number of foreign nationals seemed to disembark." Mr Tait said the group was seen walking along a pontoon, onto a footbridge and jumping over a wall to reach the harbour car park, where a white rental van was waiting for them.

Mr Tait said: "They were climbing into the back of the van. The van was driven out of the car park and was followed by an Audi TT Sport car driven by Ransom. "Police were contacted and an operation was launched which included the force's helicopter."

The van driven by Plummer and the Audi driven by Ransom were pulled over on the motorway and escorted to the nearest service station where both were arrested.

The other two men who had been in the yacht were arrested after deciding to have breakfast at the harbour cafe. Mr Tait said: "The two men who sailed across the Channel and the driver of the white van have all pleaded guilty to the same charges as this defendant," Mr Tait added. The prosecution told the jury that the guilty pleas were evidence against them only and that Ransom still denied involvement in this offence.

The jury heard how both Plummer and Ransom had travelled from Kent to Cornwall the day before and had stayed at the Travelodge in Hayle. CCTV cameras first caught sight of the van at Newlyn harbour at 5.35am before the yacht had docked. Both the van and Audi were seen coming and going until the time the yacht arrived.

After being arrested, Ransom refused to comment and insisted he had no idea what was in the van he was following. Mr Tait added: "He was then asked what he was doing in Penzance and said 'I just can't recall'." Mr Tait said the four men had all been in communication before the incident on April 12.

He said: "These sort of operations don't just happen overnight, on the spur of the moment. Planning is required." In a statement read to the jury one witness told police he saw 'fairly young' people leaving the yacht and jump into the white van.

He added: "I thought 'That's not right, there's no windows on that truck.'" The trial continues. Read more Kent crime and court news by clicking here

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