A British pilot and career criminal has been jailed alongside two other men in connection with a plot to fly four Albanian illegal immigrants into the UK.
As part of a National Crime Agency investigation, Richard Styles, aged 53 and from St Albans, Hertfordshire, was arrested at Deenethorpe Airfield near Corby, Northamptonshire, in March 2022.
He 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.
Pictured (left to right): Richard Styles, Silvano Turchet and Vijayakumar Sivakumar
NCA investigators found that Styles had worked with former pilot and fellow aviation buff Silvano Turchet, aged 68, to rent the six-seater Piper Seneca for £1,500 from an airfield in Lincolnshire.
Styles flew it down to Deenethorpe, where Turchet had paid for it to be stored in a hangar before flying to Belgium on 23 March.
Investigators believe the men were in contact with an Albanian known as ‘Tim K’ who arranged for Styles’ 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.”
Shortly after Styles’ arrest the Albanian group were detained by Northants 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 24 March 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 8 August 2022.
Turchet pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial, while Sivakumar was found guilty by a jury after a five day trial at Leicester Crown Court in February 2023.
On 28 April 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.
NCA Regional Head of Investigations Jacque Beer said: “Styles was a career criminal who previously used his piloting skills to move consignments of drugs around Europe. On this occasion he was offering a luxury end to end service, bringing people into the UK using a private plane.
“His comments to my officers show that he considered getting arrested nothing more than an occupational hazard.
“Turchet used his aviation knowledge and criminal connections to organise the attempt.
“People smugglers use a range of methods to try and breach UK border controls, and we are determined to do all we can to stop them. Tackling organised immigration crime is a priority for the NCA.
“While this type of crime is rare, we would appeal to the aviation and local community to help us prevent it. Whether you work in the aviation industry, are a keen pilot, or live locally, you should report any unusual or suspicious activity at a UK airfield or airport immediately.”
If you see anything unusual or suspicious you can call 0300 123 7000 and quote ‘PEGASUS’ or go to https://www.gov.uk/report-immigration-crime.
Sarah Jennings, CPS Specialist prosecutor, said: “All three defendants were involved in a planned and co-ordinated attempt to bypass immigration controls.
“The CPS worked extremely closely with investigators to build this case including the National Crime Agency and international law enforcement in Belgium.
“The evidence we presented showed the three men working together in the run up to the offence including on the day they were caught, unaware that the NCA were waiting as the plane landed.
“We are determined to bring people smugglers to justice and will not hesitate to prosecute those who breach our immigration laws.”
The NCA investigation was supported by Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and Northamptonshire Police.
28 April 2023