People smuggler caught off the coast of Littlehampton with eight immigrants on board

A convicted paedophile and fraudster was caught in a high-speed boat chase smuggling eight Albanians to Britain - 28 years after absconding from jail.

Charles Lynch was intercepted in a 46ft motor cruiser travelling at speeds of up to 36 knots (41mph), as he carried the migrants - an eight-year-old child, two women and five men - who were dressed in branded polo shirts and caps pretending to be on a business trip.

Charles Lynch, also known as Wolfram Steidl, smuggled eight Albanian migrants on board a 46ft motor cruiser in the English Channel on November 6 in 2019. The Border Force cutter Seeker intercepted the motor cruiser and brought everyone on board ashore at Portsmouth. Picture: National Crime Agency

Charles Lynch, also known as Wolfram Steidl, smuggled eight Albanian migrants on board a 46ft motor cruiser in the English Channel on November 6 in 2019. The Border Force cutter Seeker intercepted the motor cruiser and brought everyone on board ashore at Portsmouth. Picture: National Crime Agency

The defendant, of no fixed address, was caught four miles off the coast of Littlehampton in West Sussex, by crew on the Border Force cutter Seeker and coastal patrol vessel Nimrod with the aid of the coastguard helicopter.

Border Force boarded the cruiser Saquerlotte III after stopping Lynch, who told investigators he was a German named Wolfram Steidl. He also had fake ID papers, including a Danish driving licence and Romanian ID card in the name of Steidl.

But it emerged Steidl was just one of 40 aliases the 64-year-old used to avoid detection after absconding on home leave from Maidstone prison in 1992 where he was serving a seven-year term for theft, fraud and forgery.

Yesterday (February 26), as the dad-of-two was jailed for 44 months at Portsmouth Crown Court, National Crime Agency investigators revealed he has convictions dating back to 1971. Lynch must also serve his previous sentence of around 902 days.

Charles Lynch. Picture: National Crime Agency

Charles Lynch. Picture: National Crime Agency

Prosecutor Paul Douglass said Lynch, who claims to have been born in Russia, is a ‘highly dedicated and resourceful criminal’.

Border Force senior officer Andy Vidamour, who was part of the interception team, said: ‘When we boarded the vessel we found that Lynch had gone to some effort to disguise his criminal intentions.

‘His passengers were all wearing branded polo shirts and Lynch said he was providing them with navigational training.

‘However, his story did not stand up to scrutiny. Most damningly, he could not speak Albanian and his passengers could not speak English.’

Border Force officers had tried to contact Lynch on a radio and flashing lights at his vessel before he finally responded on VHF.

When he was stopped he claimed he was refuelling at Littlehampton before returning back to France and no-one was disembarking.

Prosecutor Mr Douglass said Lynch told officers: ‘We train them up and they get jobs, most in the UK and some in France.’

Mr Douglass added this was ‘highly suspicious’ as the boat had made previous trips between France and the UK.

The prosecutor said: ‘They were all dressed up, they were on an expensive powerful motorboat which had been leased by the defendant, so this was plainly, there was a significant degree of organisation.’

Judge Melville ruled it was an isolated incident.

Charles Langley, mitigating, said Lynch also told officers he was running a ‘legitimate business, effectively corporate tours out on the English Channel’ but that he fell to ‘temptation’ when approached in Weymouth a week before the incident.

Mr Langley said he took the cash offered to pay for medical treatment as he was effectively stateless and unable to get true identity documents, and state health care, after absconding from prison.

Sentencing, judge David Melville said: ‘This was a commercial venture on your part.

‘It was a powerful yacht, those down below on your vessel were not relatives. A significant degree of organisation was involved and your role was to get them into England.

‘You’re a resourceful, experienced and professional criminal.’

Lynch was previously in prison in France for having pseudo images of children, an offence for which he was jailed for four years in 2011.

He has 93 previous offences, including a conviction for obtaining property by deception in Portsmouth in 1985. Other previous, including firearms offences, span France, Austria, West Sussex and Southampton.

He was jailed for a number of offences in France, including possessing indecent images of children, under another identity.

The defendant, of no fixed address, was caught four miles off the coast of Littlehampton in West Sussex, by crew on the Border Force cutter Seeker and coastal patrol vessel Nimrod with the aid of the coastguard helicopter.

The vessel had aroused suspicion by travelling in a straight line from Le Havre in France to Britain under cover of darkness at 4.50pm sparking a two-mile pursuit. It was piloted back to Portsmouth Naval Base.

Investigators’ analysis found the boat had previously travelled between France and Brighton, Littlehampton, Portland, Dover and Weymouth.

Lynch admitted assisting unlawful immigration to a member state, and two charges of possessing false identity documents.

Mr Langley said Lynch denies he was avoiding being stopped, that he identified himself and that the boat was in a ‘good, safe condition’ with life jackets for all, a liferaft and second dinghy.

‘He was trying to be as safe as possible,’ Mr Langley said.

Lynch claims the pseudo images in the French case did not relate to children, and said he was ashamed and remorseful.