Eight men who escaped from Yarl’s Wood are jailed

Arnold Lleshaj, Mexhit Palushi, Rizah Koka, Samuel Boka
Arnold Lleshaj, Mexhit Palushi, Rizah Koka, Samuel Boka. Images: Bedfordshire Police

Bedfordshire Police has confirmed that eight men who escaped from an immigration removal centre before going on the run have been jailed.

The men escaped from Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre near Milton Ernest in April 2023. Following a disturbance, they escaped through an outside door in a sports hall, before breaking through three fences and scattering across the country.

The eight fled to different destinations around the UK, from Havering to Huddersfield, some in groups and others on their own.

Bedfordshire Police and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit led a nationwide manhunt for several weeks to capture the escapees.

Some gave themselves up, while others were tracked down by police and arrested.

On Wednesday, 7 February, the last of 13 men convicted as a result of the police investigation into the escape were jailed, with the total sentences adding up to more than 21 years for the escape, as well as linked drugs and fraud offences.

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Inwood from Bedfordshire Police CID, who led the investigation, said: “This was a dangerous and brazen escape attempt by men who were awaiting deportation.

“Thousands of hours have been spent by our Bedfordshire officers and staff as well as law enforcement colleagues across the country in order to apprehend those who escaped.

“This behaviour was completely unacceptable and a flagrant breach of the law.”

His Honour Judge Alan Blake commended the Bedfordshire Police investigation in court, which brought all eight men back into custody within weeks of their escape.

The force detained five other men near Yarl’s Wood shortly after the incident in April, in addition to the eight men who went on the run.

Rizah Koka and another man were arrested by Bedfordshire and Metropolitan Police officers while they were sat outside a coffee shop in the Colindale area of north London.

Officers found a set of keys on the pair and subsequently carried out searches at the address where they discovered cocaine worth up to £50,000, cannabis worth up to £63,000 as well as around £70,000 in cash.

Mariglen Coha was found asleep at an address in Huddersfield, in an area where he had previously been arrested and a cannabis factory discovered, while Ervin Morati was arrested in a coffee shop in Watford town centre.

Officers tracked down Bilbil Bodini at an address in Hendon, north London, while Enea Shima was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers at an address in Bromley, south London.

The remaining escapees – Thanas Bizhoti, Luftim Hallaci and Arnold Lleshaj – handed themselves into police stations in Kempston, Bedfordshire, Romford, east London and Hinkley, Leicestershire respectively.

The eight men – Mariglen Coha, 32, Rizah Koka, 29, Arnold Lleshaj, 28, Enea Shima, 28, Thanas Bizhoti, 28, Bilbil Bodini, 27, Luftim Hallaci, 21, and Ervin Morati, 21 – all pleaded guilty to escaping lawful custody.

Lleshaj also pleaded guilty to violent disorder and criminal damage and was jailed for 22 months, becoming the last of the escapees to be sentenced.

The other seven men were found not guilty of violent disorder in relation to the breakout.

Six were found not guilty of criminal damage with one, Hallaci, pleading guilty to the offence.

Last year Bodini, Hallaci and Morati were handed jail terms of eight months. Bizhoti and Coha were jailed for seven months and Shima for six months.

In terms of the drugs seized in London, Koka and two others were convicted.

Mexhit Palushi, 24, of Stratford Road, Birmingham, was found sat with Koka at the café. He was also found in possession of a fake Polish driving licence.

While police were searching the flat the two men had keys to, Samuel Boka, 22, of Heritage Avenue, London, turned up at the address and was arrested.

He was also found to have false identity documents.

All three men pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of cannabis and cocaine, as well as possession of criminal property.

Palushi and Boka also pleaded guilty to possessing false identity documents.

In December, the three men were jailed for a total of more than 14 years at Luton Crown Court.

Palushi was given a sentence of five years and three months, Koka was given five years, including a six-month sentence for escaping lawful custody, and Boka was jailed for four years.

Two of the five men who got outside the fence at Yarl’s Wood but were detained by Bedfordshire Police at the scene were also jailed yesterday.

Xhek Spahiu, 25, and Adrian Voci, 36, were jailed for nine months and eight months respectively after pleading guilty to escaping lawful custody.

Alket Hida, 31, of Emscote Road, Warwick, pleaded guilty to assisting two of the prisoners with their escape and was jailed for 15 weeks. Vasile Koraque, 28, of Clapham Road, Bedford, was found not guilty of helping three of the men with their escape from Yarl’s Wood.

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