Last week saw an extraordinary co-ordinated raid by multiple government agencies, both at sea and ashore, on the shellfish business operated by a lifelong fisherman from South West Scotland.

Paul Maguire operates two potters from the historic fishing port of Port William in Luce Bay. His crew included several non-UK nationals, believed to be from Ghana and Indonesia.

In the last week of October, a Border Force vessel approached Mr Maguire’s boat Galilee BA 7, which he was skippering. He was instructed by Border Force officers to make for port, and despite protesting that there would be insufficient tide, had to make way for Port William and lay off the harbour to wait for water. Boarding officers from the Border Force team confiscated his mobile phone.

Upon entering the harbour, Paul described a chaotic scene where he counted around 60 officers awaiting him ashore. They were from various agencies including Police Scotland, the MCA, Border Force and Customs and Excise.

During the day they had broken down the door to the vessels’ gear store, raided the skipper’s home, and then raided his mother and father’s house nearby. It was Mrs Maguire’s 90th birthday, which she celebrated by being detained by the officers in her living room for several hours, whilst they awaited the arrival of the vessel in port. They prevented any contact between Mrs Maguire and her son, and took a variety of items from the properties raided, along with the mobile phones of the crew.

“I counted around 60 of them – I couldn’t believe it,” Paul Maguire told Fishing News. “The guys who work for me on the boat have been here for up to 16 years – they are very happy, and don’t want to go home.” However, it turns out that is where they are going after Paul was given seven days to repatriate them.

He continued: “My mother is so shook up she now wants to sell the house and move away, at 90 years old. They took cash and paperwork from both houses and interviewed the crew. I believe they had a list of 90 questions for each crew member, including asking if they were mistreated by me.”

Paul outlined his frustration that these hardworking skilled men, who are living far from their families to build a better future, are being sent home while hundreds are meanwhile escorted into the UK near Dover.

Mr Maguire told Fishing News that Border Force officials had told him they had expected to find ‘up to 20’ illegal immigrants in his gear store, suggesting that they may have been acting on intelligence given to them by an unnamed source. He added that they even had a film crew with them.

FN contacted the agencies involved with a number of questions about the proportionality of the raid, the need to detain a vessel at sea when return to harbour was physically impossible for several hours, and the need to break into several properties, empty at the time, smashing locks in the process, when these would easily have been opened upon request.

Border Force confirmed to FN that ‘they were assisting in a multi-agency operation, but were not the ‘lead agency’.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said in response to our questions: “A joint operation led by Police Scotland working with partner agencies (MCA, HMRC and Border Force) was carried out on Wednesday, 25 October, 2023. This action was in connection with an ongoing investigation, and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

The MCA did not respond to our request for comment, or offer any explanation of its role in the raid.

We understand that several foreign crew from the vessel have already left the UK.

The raid appears to be a continuation of the ‘zero tolerance’ approach to foreign nationals working in UK waters, particularly inside 12 miles. Recent activity has included several fishermen being repatriated from around the UK, including a co-ordinated raid in Northern Ireland, where several of the officers involved were armed (Fishing News, 3 August, ‘Border Force raids NI boat’), and similar multi-agency raids in North West Scotland.

The latest raid comes in a week when FN understands that several other Indian nationals working on transit visas were repatriated – despite the fact that, as we reported last week, many foreign crew are undertaking English lessons with the intention of transferring to the skilled worker visa. Whilst they are able to take this exam in the UK, they must return to their home country to apply for the new visa.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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