May 2, 2023 9.39 am This story is over 8 months old

Three men including British pilot jailed over botched people smuggling attempt

A plane was rented from an airfield in Lincolnshire

Three men have been jailed over a plot to fly four Albanian illegal immigrants into the UK using a six-seater plane rented from an airfield in Lincolnshire.

As part of a National Crime Agency investigation, Richard Styles, 53, from St Albans in Hertfordshire, was arrested at Deenethorpe Airfield near Corby in Northamptonshire in March 2022.

Styles, who has been jailed for seven years, had just flown his twin-engine plane to the airfield from Belgium, carrying with him three men and a woman who were all attempting to evade immigration checks.

NCA investigators found that Styles had worked with former pilot and fellow aviation enthusiast Silvano Turchet, 68, to rent the six-seater Piper Seneca from a Lincolnshire airfield for £1,500. The NCA investigation was supported by Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and Northamptonshire Police.

Styles flew it down to Deenethorpe, where Turchet had paid for it to be stored in a hangar before flying to Belgium on March 23.

Investigators believe the men were in contact with an Albanian known as ‘Tim K’ who arranged for Style’s illegal passengers to meet him in Belgium. When the plane returned to the UK the next day, an NCA surveillance team was waiting.

As Styles was arrested he joked: “I normally get arrested for drugs, so it’s a bit strange.”

The six-seater Piper Seneca was rented from an airfield in Lincolnshire for £1,500. | Photo: National Crime Agency

Shortly after his arrest, the Albanian group were detained by Northamptonshire Police officers, who were working with the NCA, in a Mercedes taxi driven by Vijayakumar Sivakumar. The migrants were handed to the immigration authorities.

Sivakumar, 43, who was previously convicted for trying to smuggle someone into the UK in the boot of his car, was also arrested. Phone records showed he had been in contact with ‘Tim K’ in the run up to the flight.

Styles had previous convictions for using a plane to smuggle ecstasy tablets out of Belgium in 2003, and drop cannabis into Jersey the same year while he was on the run from the Belgian authorities. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2006, where he is believed to have met Turchet.

The pair were arrested by the Dutch authorities in 2017 in connection with another people smuggling enterprise. Styles would later be convicted in his absence – he was already in custody in the UK by the time the case came to trial.

Turchet was arrested at his home in Nottingham in July 2022 after NCA investigators identified him as the organiser. He initially denied knowledge of the plot, even though phone data put him near Deenethorpe airfield on March 24 and showed he’d called Styles nine times.

All three men were charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law, a charge Styles admitted at a hearing on August 8, 2022.

Turchet pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial. Sivakumar was found guilty by a jury after a five day trial at Leicester Crown Court in February 2023.

On April 28, a judge at the same court sentenced Styles to seven years in prison, Turchet to seven-and-a-half years, and Sivakumar to four-and-a-half years.

MyLocal Lincolnshire is the new home of The Lincolnite. Download the app now