69 Albanians caught crossong to England in a trawler walk free
Criminal charges against 69 Albanian migrants found hiding in a trawler heading for England have been dropped after a legal bungle.
The migrants were arrested last month after the fishing boat was intercepted off the coast of East Anglia.
But plans to prosecute them for illegal entry to the UK have now been abandoned because when arrested, they had not yet set foot on British soil – a key criteria under the law.
The Home Office said the Albanians' immigration cases will now be dealt with and 'removal action will be pursued' for those who have no right to remain in the UK.
Prosecutions of the three crew members – a Latvian and two Ukrainians – will continue.
Five of the migrants had already pleaded guilty to unlawful entry and jailed for two weeks. Their convictions are expected to be quashed.
One of the men, Ajazi, 31, from Tirana, said he and other migrants were poised to launch appeals to stay in Britain. 'It is our human right to be able to come here with our families,' he added.
'Our life is at risk in our country because of our debts. We spoke to lawyers. It is our right to be able to live our life in freedom.'
The migrants were originally charged with illegal entry to the UK under Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971, which carries up to six months' imprisonment.
But the Act states that 'a person arriving in the United Kingdom by ship or aircraft shall... be deemed not to enter the United Kingdom unless and until he disembarks'.
More than 250 officials were involved in the operation to intercept the 101ft trawler, called the Svanic, which had departed from Belgium.
The vessel was escorted into Harwich in Essex in one of the largest cases of clandestine illegal immigration ever uncovered.