Two males appear in court over Channel crossing deaths tragedy

Two males charged with immigration offences after five migrants including a child died trying to cross the English Channel have appeared in court where questions were raised about their ages.

At Folkestone Youth Court on Friday, district judge William Nelson said there was “real doubt” over the defendants’ ages after the individuals, from South Sudan and Sudan, said they were 15 and 16 years old.

The issue arose as the male from South Sudan appeared via video link at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court and was asked to confirm his age and date of birth.

He told the court he was born in 2008 which led to proceedings being adjourned to clarify the age assessment.

It was then brought back to Folkestone Youth Court with his case heard together with the other male from Sudan.

Because the pair both appeared before a Youth Court they are granted automatic anonymity.

Mr Nelson said: “In my judgment there is real doubt, the doubt is not fanciful.

“I cannot look at both defendants and determine unequivocally they are over the age of 18 and where there is competing evidence to the contrary, the correct course of action recognising the rights of defendants, especially those of children, is to adjourn the proceedings for an assessment, and … to treat the two defendants as children unless or until that is proved to be otherwise.”

The male from South Sudan is charged with assisting unlawful immigration and attempting to arrive in the UK without valid entry clearance, and the other is charged with attempting to arrive in the UK without valid entry clearance.

The court heard how age assessments were completed by immigration officers and social workers on April 23 which deemed them to be in their early 20s, but they were not Merton compliant.

According to government guidance, Merton compliant age assessments may be needed when there is reason to doubt an individual’s claimed age.

Mr Nelson adjourned the case to the same court for April 30, and remanded the individuals into local authority accommodation.

The National Crime Agency had said it is working with Kent Police, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force to support the French-led investigation into the incident on the beach near Wimereux in northern France on Tuesday.

It has been reported a dinghy carrying more than 100 people set off from Wimereux at around 6am on Tuesday but got into difficulty.

Three men, a woman and a seven-year-old girl died.

Some 49 people were rescued but 58 others refused to leave the boat and continued their journey towards the UK, the French coastguard had said in a statement, with several other boats later embarking on the crossing.