The first people smuggler convicted using evidence from surveillance drones over the Channel was jailed yesterday.
Rebwar Ahmed, 36, was filmed by an 'eye in the sky' unmanned aircraft at the helm of a rigid-hulled inflatable boat crossing from France.
The Iraqi's conviction came as the Daily Mail was granted exclusive access to the nerve centre controlling the Channel surveillance drones.
Rebwar Ahmed, 36, was filmed by an 'eye in the sky' unmanned aircraft at the helm of a rigid-hulled inflatable boat crossing from France
Army Watchkeeper drones fly out of Lydd Airport in Kent, 25 miles south-west of Dover, hunting migrant boats with high-definition optical sensors, infrared cameras and radar systems.
Surveillance images from the drones help co-ordinate rescues of migrants at sea but are now also being used to prosecute people smugglers at the helm of the small boats.
The Home Office's clandestine Channel threat commander Dan O'Mahoney said Ahmed's conviction sent a clear message to human traffickers.
In his first newspaper interview since his appointment by Home Secretary Priti Patel last month, he also revealed the Government is 'very close' to securing a new deal with the French which, it is hoped, will lead to tougher action on the other side of the Channel to prevent the boats setting off.
'The surveillance footage we've captured has been absolutely critical to proving who was driving the boats and quite often we arrest that person as they step off the boat in Dover, and we prosecute them,' said Mr O'Mahoney.
'The evidence we get from the drone is so strong that they often plead guilty at a very early stage.
Ahmed was at the tiller of the boat carrying 20 other migrants (pictured) on July 12 and the vessel was followed by the remote-controlled drone for 36 minutes
'It's previously been very difficult to prove to a court that the person who's driving the boat was playing a key role but now we often have video evidence of them doing that all the way across the Channel.'
Ahmed was at the tiller of the boat carrying 20 other migrants on July 12.
The vessel was followed by the remote-controlled drone for 36 minutes, then intercepted by a Border Force coastal patrol boat around halfway through the crossing.
All passengers were photographed as they disembarked for processing in Dover, where Ahmed, who was carrying a mobile phone and lock knife, was identified as the person in control of the boat.
He previously admitted a charge of assisting unlawful immigration during a hearing on August 21. He was sentenced to 31 months' imprisonment at Canterbury Crown Court yesterday.
Jailing him, Judge Mark Weekes said: 'You and those on board the craft were attempting to leave a safe country, France, to enter another safe country.
'The drone footage reveals that you are the only person in control of the boat.'
The drone's cameras repeatedly zoomed in on Ahmed at the tiller before the backdrop of the White Cliffs of Dover came into shot.
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