30 April 2024

Further age assessments ordered for pair charged over Channel crossings tragedy

30 April 2024

Two males charged with immigration offences after five migrants died trying to cross the English Channel must undergo further age assessments before court proceedings can take place.

Magistrates at Folkestone Youth Court ordered for Merton compliant age assessments to be carried out following questions raised about the defendants’ ages at their first court appearance on Friday.

They were brought to court as adults as the prosecution said immigration officers and a social worker had assessed the pair’s ages as in their early 20s on April 23.

But the defendants, from South Sudan and Sudan, told the court they are 15 and 16 years old.

On Tuesday, the court heard from defence representation that the assessment that had already been carried out was around five pages long, while the Merton report produces around 50 pages and uses three methods of assessing age which is done over multiple appointments.

According to government guidance, Merton compliant age assessments may be needed when there is doubt over an individual’s claimed age.

On Friday, district judge William Nelson said: “In my judgment there is real doubt, the doubt is not fanciful.

“I cannot look at both defendants and determine unequivocally they are over the age of 18.”

The male from South Sudan is charged with assisting unlawful immigration and attempting to arrive in the UK without valid entry clearance, and the male from Sudan is charged with attempting to arrive in the UK without valid entry clearance.

The two, who sat in court aided by a Sudanese interpreter, were remanded into local authority accommodation.

They cannot be identified for legal reasons as they appeared before a youth court.

A further hearing was set for May 28 but the court heard it was unclear how long it would take for the assessments to be done.

The National Crime Agency had said it is working with Kent Police, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force to support the French-led investigation into the incident on the beach near Wimereux in northern France on Tuesday.

It has been reported a dinghy carrying more than 100 people set off from Wimereux at around 6am on Tuesday but got into difficulty.

Three men, a woman and a seven-year-old girl died.

Some 49 people were rescued but 58 others refused to leave the boat and continued their journey towards the UK, the French coastguard had said in a statement, with several other boats later embarking on the crossing.

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