Asylum seeker ‘threatened with death’ to pilot boat, court told

An asylum seeker said he was assaulted by smugglers and facing a threat of ‘violence and death’ to pilot a dinghy to the UK.

An asylum seeker who travelled in a dinghy in the English Channel where four people died said he was “threatened with death” to pilot the boat, a court has heard.

Ibrahima Bah, from Senegal, said in a statement that he was trying to come to the UK to claim asylum when smugglers asked if he could pilot the boat, and if so, he could travel for free.

The written evidence being read aloud at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday comes as the trial of Bah, who is over 18 years old and of no fixed address, continues.

Bah is accused of four counts of manslaughter and of piloting a boat facilitating unlawful entry to the UK after an inflatable dinghy carrying more than 40 people across the sea sank on December 14, 2022.

Bah denies all the charges.

Bah’s statement read to jurors went on to say when the group of travellers reached the shore, and he saw the state of the boat he “changed his mind”, but this angered the smugglers.

He added: “I was assaulted and threatened with death.”

Bah then explained when they were on the boat, the plan was to go to the middle of the Channel and “seek help from the British authorities and claim asylum”.

He described how others on the boat were panicking and grabbing for anchor ropes of a nearby fishing boat and he “told them to stop”.

Bah said: “They were panicking for no reason and causing the issue.

“It’s very sad people died. If they had stayed calm we would have all been safe and claimed asylum together …

“It was a very upsetting experience.”

Police interviews following his arrest read out in court said that Bah had left Senegal in 2019, spent two years in Libya and had driven a boat from Libya to Italy, having previously learned how to pilot boats in Africa.

The account also detailed how Bah driving the boat to the UK from France meant free travel for himself and a close friend, also from Senegal, who died after falling into the water that night.

The interview also reiterated how when Bah saw the “large boat with small engine” and decided not to pilot it, there was a “fist fight” with the smugglers and Sudanese migrants witnessed the smugglers kicking him.

In the last day of the prosecution’s case, junior counsel Ben Lloyd stated when Bah was charged with facilitating illegal entry to the UK on December 17, he replied: “I did something, it was wrong. If I had known it I wouldn’t have done it.”

To the charge of manslaughter, Bah is recorded to have said: “I have to say I didn’t kill anyone”.

The case continues next week.

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