Home Office 'punishing' innocent Belgian

AN Ipswich lawyer launched a blistering courtroom attack on a senior government official after an innocent boatowner was left high and dry in a suspected people smuggling case in Suffolk.

AN Ipswich lawyer launched a blistering courtroom attack on a senior government official after an innocent boatowner was left high and dry in a suspected people smuggling case in Suffolk.

Solicitor Neil Saunders savaged high-ranking Home Office official Rolf Toolin for persecuting the wife of a senior Belgian police officer who says she was duped into renting out a boat that was used allegedly to smuggle illegal Lithuanian immigrants on to the Suffolk coast.

Karin van Loocke, of Nieuweport, Belgium, accompanied by her husband Jean-Claude Paps, a chief inspector in the Belgian police, had come to Ipswich in a desperate attempt to recover her boat after Suffolk Police impounded it in a suspected illegal immigration bust.

During the special hearing, Mr Saunders said phone calls made to Mr Toolin, an immigration department assistant director, revealed he was determined to punish Mrs van Loocke for being duped by a gang of Lithuanians, who are alleged to have been involved in trafficking people into the UK.


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Mr Saunders said he was shocked by Mr Toolin's vindictive approach, which arose when Mrs Van Loocke threatened to withdraw her statement if her yacht was not returned.

He told magistrates that Mr Toolin had said 'I will not be held to ransom. I can make life very difficult for Mr Paps and Karin van Loocke. A message must be sent back to Belgium.'

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As he called for Mrs van Loocke to be able to sail back to Belgium in her yacht, Mr Saunders said: "This is the UK. This is not a banana republic - I don't think we need that here.

"These people have been used and abused. It's unbelievable and I am cross about it. Very cross. The mark has been overstepped."

Mrs van Loocke told the court she operated a small boat-hiring and sailing school business in Belgium and faced financial ruin if her boat, The Pinot, was not returned.

She said The Pinot was fully booked for the summer and without that revenue she would be unable to meet her loan repayments for the yacht.

The Pinot was impounded in Southwold on 19 June. Suffolk police swooped after a tip off from Belgian police that it may be carrying at least eight illegal immigrants from Lithuania.

Five people, three from Lithuania and two London residents of Lithuanian descent are currently facing charges of facilitating illegal immigrants. All deny the charges.

Mrs van Loocke said she had rented out the yacht in good faith and even asked Belgian police to monitor it when she became suspicious.

She pleaded for The Pinot to be released and promised to return it if it was needed as evidence in the investigation.

But Ian Pells, for the Crown, said the yacht would have to be retained to ensure it was kept in an identical condition for any forthcoming trial.

He said he sympathised with the couple and that they were innocent victims of crime. But he insisted the boat must remain impounded to ensure a fair trial for those suspected of arranging the illegal entry of the Lithuanians.

Magistrates ruled that the yacht had to be retained in the interests of justice.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Paps said: "That's it, our business is finished, 25 years of work - all finished. We will lose everything."

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