A French court has sentenced an imam to two years in prison for helping migrants try to cross the English Channel in inflatable boats.

The 39-year-old Iranian national was accused of arranging several crossings from northern France to England.

A 29-year-old Senegalese man who attended the mosque where the imam preaches also stood trial.

He was given nine months in jail and was banned from visiting Nord and Pas-de-Calais for three years.

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The imam, who has not been named in French media, fainted upon hearing his sentence.

The men admitted providing six or seven dinghies after they were arrested in April, French newspaper Le Figaro reported.

The investigation started in late March when life jackets, wet pullovers and a rubber dinghy were discovered on a beach in northern France.

According to the prosecution, the imam was in contact with organised gangs of traffickers and took a commission on the sale of each boat.

Police found two boats, three outboard engines and life jackets in the imam’s house. The two men confessed to buying seven boats between December 2018 and April 2019.

The imam claimed he visited a shop in Deulemont, on the border with Belgium, to purchase dinghies for a person he identified only as Kamal.

Both defendants claimed they only realised later that the boats were being used for illegal Channel crossings.

“When I learnt that, I thought of the children on board and I told myself there could have been deaths,” the Senegalese man told the court. The imam said he was “ashamed”.

Prosecutors said their explanations “did not reflect reality” and that the Iranian national was often in the areas where the boats were discovered.

There has been a recent spike in the number of migrants trying to cross the Channel in boats, despite the risk of dangerous currents, cold waters and collisions.