Albanian national, 41 year old Mustaf Cunaj, was in “constant” contact with people smugglers operating in northern France during 2022.

He used the alias ‘John Brown’ to contact migrants via WhatsApp and arrange crossings via small boats.

Investigators linked him to at least 31 crossings through his messages within a period of five weeks.

In one conversation with another smuggler he arranged the crossing of a woman and children, bartering prices from £8,000 down to £7,500 for their crossing.

Officers found he had shared in excess of 800 messages with this contact, part of a people smuggling network in northern France, between August and September 2022.

In another, Cunaj referenced buying inflatable boats with prices ranging from £4,000 to £4,500 per boat.

He also asked about lifejackets, telling his contact ‘I have five people, they don’t know how [to wear a lifejacket] as they are small children’.

A number of images sharing map locations in Calais and Dunkirk were also discovered on his phone, whilst another shows two users’ locations as being in the English Channel and the North Sea.

Videos were also recovered from the device showing a boat being launched from a beach and another of migrants wearing life jackets on a boat at sea.

Cunaj was first arrested by NCA officers in October 2022 and released under investigation.

He was rearrested in September 2023 and charged with people smuggling offences.

He initially denied involvement in immigration crime, stating he only put family members in contact with others if they were interested in coming to the UK.

But Cunaj admitted conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration, and at Kingston Crown Court this morning, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Cunaj was part of a network of UK-based fixers linked to Hewa Rahimpur, the head of a people smuggling network believed to be involved in smuggling 10,000 migrants to the UK.

Rahimpur was jailed in Belgium last year, after being arrested by the NCA in London.

NCA Senior Investigating Officer, Andy MacGill, said: “Cunaj was prolific, swapping hundreds of messages in only two months with one people smuggler organising these dangerous crossings, and involved in the arrangement of many more.

“Entering the UK via small boat is extremely dangerous and evidence showed Cunaj had no regard for those he was smuggling, even arranging crossings for young children.

“The NCA is committed to tackling organised immigration crime as a priority and our work continues to stop people smugglers working both in the UK and overseas.”