Exactly 50 years ago visitors on Southend Pier were enjoying the sea air and kicking back on deckchairs tucking into ice creams, oblivious to the fact that just a few miles out in the estuary, detectives were about to smash a global immigrant smuggling racket.

In a dramatic swoop off Southend, just east of the pier, police in a special launcher caught up with a 500 tonne Dutch ship, the Noorderhaven, which they suspected of harbouring illegal immigrants.

They managed to get the ship to a nearby jetty and when they got inside they found a group of Indian men, huddled together in a tiny, pitch-black chain locker.

The men, all aged between 19 and 32 were wearing suits. Some had pyjamas on underneath their clothes.

They had no belongings and very little money. The five of them were taken to Southend Police Station, along with some of the Nooderhaven crew members.

The Indian men couldn’t speak English so an interpreter had to be brought in. The Dutch ship had been on its way from Rotterdam to Greenwich when it was intercepted following a lengthy collaboration with Essex Police and the Dutch authorities.

The ship was anchored close to Southend Pier for one night while the Dutch captain refused to get off. He was onboard with his daughter who was cuddling a pet poodle dog as the police clambered on board, but he still refused to co-operate.

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Meanwhile officers at Southend tried their best to look after the Indian men, who were from the Punjabi area. They had specific dietary requirements due to their religion so curry restaurants in Southend stepped up to feed them.

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The five men were eventually taken by the Home Office and refused entry to the UK and arrangements were made to send them back to India. As a result of the drama, a number of arrests were eventually made of the leaders of the Dutch smuggling ring

Essex was hot on smuggling at this time, with its own waterborne police force. The county had started its own police fleet to patrol the Thames estuary in 1947.

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A number of boats covered the area, but in 1971 the biggest and best of them all was named The Watchful. It was a 27ft long glass-fibre workboat which was always patrolling the water – as far as the North Sea on occasion.

Also at this time Southenders were showing their support for a local man named Oscar Glean, who had settled in to the town from his home in Trinidad.

Glean, 28, who had a wife and children in Southend, was being forced to fly home to Trinidad by the Home Office. He had come to Southend four years earlier to work as a nurse but broke his permit rules by switching to a higher paid job with the Post Office.

The people of Southend wanted to show their solidarity with their neighbour and rallied to help, led by councillor Alex McLennon, who fought to have the case re-opened by the Home Office. Mr Glean was expected to fly to Trinidad then apply for new permit and bolstered by the support of Southend people, he was expected to win his fight.

“The people of Southend have been marvellous,” said Cllr McLennon. “Enough has come from Southend charities, colleagues on the council and prominent business owners in the town to pay for the £250 trip to Trinidad and back.”