Snooker coach to the stars jailed for bringing Iraqis illegally into the UK at Harwich Port
- Credit: Lucy taylor
A snooker coach who helped train Jimmy White, Willie Thorne and former world champion Joe Johnson has been jailed for bringing five illegal immigrants into the UK.
Alan Bell was caught by officials at Harwich Port on December 20 when they heard a baby crying in the back of his Volkswagen van as he returned from a tournament in Amsterdam.
Former Ipswich resident Bell, 61, admitted he had five people in the back under a duvet – two women with three children, aged in their early teens, seven years and nine months old.
Bell, of Esslement Road, Southsea, admitted one charge of assisting in unlawful immigration and was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court today.
Emma Nash, prosecuting, told the court the two women had paid a total of $30,000 to traffickers to get them out of their native Kurdish Iraq to the UK.
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They claimed asylum and their application was currently being processed.
Richard Conley, mitigating, said Bell had been due to be paid £500 for his role in the journey but never got the money.
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He said: “Bell was not part of any apparatus or premeditated effort to import these people.
“In the world of smokey halls in snooker clubs one can be approached by wheeler-dealer types, and it was in such circumstances Bell’s heartstrings were tugged by a person concerned in the importation of these individuals while in Amsterdam.
“This was not an entirely humanitarian exercise. He needed the money. But it is right to say his better nature was preyed upon with the desperate plight of these people.”
Mr Conley said Bell had coached a number of well-known pool and snooker names, including White and Johnson, and handed up personal references from player-turned-commentator Thorne to the judge.
Judge Christopher Ball QC, sentencing Bell to two year’s jail, said the issue of immigration was “uppermost in the minds of the vast majority of the population”.
He said: “You have facilitated in the movement of five people from one safe European country to a preferred safe European country. Us. The UK.
“That exacerbates further the stresses and strains on our systems and structures and feeds into the public disquiet about this.
“You did this for money, not altruism or out of the goodness of your heart.
“So others are not tempted to line their wallets with a few hundred pounds with people being imported like packages of meat, there has to be an appropriate sentence. This is a very serious matter.
“Quite why such a profitable and well-organised operation should rely on a chance meeting in a snooker hall to get them into the UK is something of a mystery and I have some difficulty swallowing it was completely by chance.”
The court heard Bell settled in Ipswich with his Thai wife and daughter having lived in Thailand coaching snooker for a number of years.
However when his marriage broke up in 2013 he moved to the south coast to be closer to his daughter, now aged eight.
Speaking after the hearing, Chris Adams, from Immigration Enforcement’s Crime Team for the East of England, said: “This was a flagrant attempt at people smuggling committed by a man prepared to exploit the desperation of vulnerable people for his own criminal gain.
“I hope today’s tough sentence sends a message that people smuggling will not be tolerated and the consequences for those who engage in such criminality are severe.”