People-smugglers flew illegal Albanians into airfield near Corby before they were taken by Uber to Phoenix Parkway Asda
A pilot flew four illegal Albanian immigrants into a tiny airfield near Corby before an Uber driver dropped them off at Asda, a court has heard.
Belgian officials became suspicious of a plane that left their country bound for Northamptonshire on March 24 last year and alerted their UK counterparts.
The plane’s transponder was turned off so they were unable to follow its onward journey, but the National Crime Agency intercepted the plane as its pilot taxied it into a hangar at Deenethorpe Airfield.
The Albanians – three men and a woman – were caught at Phoenix Parkway some minutes later.
Taxi driver Vijayakumar Sivakumar, 43, who took the four on their journey from the airfield to Phoenix Parkway retail park, is standing trial accused of assisting the illegal entry of immigrants into the United Kingdom.
Pilot Richard Styles, 53, of no fixed abode, and a third man, Silvano Turchet have already pleaded guilty to their part in the plot. Another alleged ringleader known as ‘Tim K’, whose real name is Kujtim Karanxha, disappeared on the day of the flight and has not been seen since.
On the final day of the trial at Leicester Crown Court yesterday (Thursday, February 23), the court was told that, earlier in the proceedings, prosecutor Sarah Gaunt had detailed some of Sivakumar’s 174 communications with Tim K in the 50 days before his arrest.
In 2020, the defendant of Singleton Close, Tooting, had met Tim K through a taxi company called Standard Cars and had started regularly taking him on journeys from Colliers Wood station to St James’ Road in Croydon.
The court heard that Sivakumar had used his own bank account to transfer several large amounts of money to ‘relatives’ of Tim K because he claimed he did not have his own account.
He also took cash to Tim K in 2021 while he was in an immigration detention centre at Gatwick.
After his arrest, a series of texts between the two were found on Sivakumar’s phone including pictures of different properties in London. Another text sent in November 2021 from Tim K said ‘Sorry Siva, didn’t take cos police was watching.’
Ms Gaunt said to Sivakumar: “It’s not usual for taxi drivers to send these type of messages to customers.”
His Honour Judge Timothy Spencer KC outlined to the jury how, on March 23 last year, Sivakumar had collected pilot Richard Styles from Swanley in Kent and Tim K from Croydon, and had taken the pair of them to Deenethorpe.
That night Styles flew the plane to Belgium and Sivakumar returned to London with Tim K.
At 4am the following morning Sivakumar again collected Tim K and they drove to Northamptonshire.
The twin engine Piper Seneca plane had been delayed in Belgium on its return journey so while Tim K waited at the airfield, Sivakumar went to several takeaways in Corby including McDonald’s, Sinple Treats and Priors Kitchen but found them closed.
At 12.09pm he received a message from Tim K simply saying ‘hay bales’. Sivakumar returned to Deenethorpe at 12.18pm and drove right up to the plane door. Within four minutes the Albanians had been bundled into the car and had left the airfield. He then received a text message saying ‘Phoenix Parkway, Corby, England.’
Pilot Richard Styles drove the plane into the hangar and was arrested by the National Crime Agency. Sivakumar drove his passengers – Eugen Hadroj, Gezim Cejku, Baftjar Lamaj and Vildona Gjergji – to Corby Asda just a few miles up the road. There, they had been due to be collected by another middle-man but instead they were all taken into custody.
Tim K managed to get himself to Birmingham where he took a train to Euston and has since disappeared.
The court heard that Sivakumar said he knew that the plan was ‘dodgy’ after the passengers got into his Mercedes but denied being a ‘trusted’ member of the gang.
He told police: “I’m a taxi driver. I don’t know anything.”
Deenethorpe operator Kevin Bradley had previously told the court that members of the gang had first approached the airfield three weeks previously to ask about renting hangar space. Since then they had brought the plane backwards and forwards ‘three or four’ times.
The jury also heard that Sivakumar – a registered Transport for London taxi driver – had previously been convicted of attempting to smuggle a Sri Lankan national in his car boot from France to the UK in 2008.
In his defence, barrister Shaun Andrew Esprit said that his client had no knowledge of the Deenethorpe plan and that he did not know that the people he was transporting were illegal immigrants.
He said he had used a phone registered to himself and a car that he had been provided as a courtesy car and had not tried to conceal his whereabouts.
Mr Esprit said that his client had been ‘left in the lurch’ by Tim K and had been ‘duped’.
Chester-based Silvano Turchet pleaded guilty to his part in the enterprise just a few days into the two-week trial, and pilot Richard Styles admitted the charges against him last year. They will be sentenced at a later date.
The judge allowed the jury to be told details of their long criminal histories of using planes for illegal activity.
The jury was sent out to consider its verdict just before 4pm yesterday and will continue its deliberations this morning.