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The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaving Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, 23 October. PA Wire/PA Images
Essex trailer tragedy

Man wanted in connection with deaths of 39 migrants in trailer was travelling on Irish passport, court hears

It is alleged that Eamon Harrison delivered the trailer to a Belgian port before its journey to Britain.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Nov 2019

A NORTHERN IRISH man alleged to have delivered the refrigerated trailer in which 39 migrants were found dead last month was travelling on an Irish passport at the time, the High Court has heard.

British authorities are seeking the surrender of Eamon Harrison (22) from Mayobridge, Co Down, to face 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and conspiracy to commit human trafficking under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act. The warrant seeking his extradition refers to Mr Harrison as a British citizen.

It is alleged that Mr Harrison delivered the trailer, in which the bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in an industrial park in Grays, Esssex on October 23, to a Belgian port before it’s onward journey to Britain. 

He was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant earlier this month by detectives from the garda’s extradition unit. When asked by Detective Sergeant Jim Kirwan whether he knew what the charges were about, Mr Harrison said: “yes”, the High Court in Dublin has heard. 

The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson (25), from Craigavon, Co Armagh, was arrested by Essex police at the scene.

Det Sgt Kirwan told the High Court that the trailer unit had been delivered by a lorry to Zeebrugge, Belgium before being transported to the UK where it was collected by Maurice Robinson from the Port of Purfleet, Essex.

“On 22nd of October 2019, Eamon Harrison had been identified as the driver of the lorry which was used to deliver the trailer unit to the port in Zeebrugge,” the detective said. 

He said a shipping notice provided at Zeebrugge was allegedly signed in the name ‘Eamonn Harrison’, who then travelled back to Ireland via a ferry from Cherbourg, France.”

Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Ronan Kennedy SC, told the High Court today that further information from the UK authorities would be required in respect of a number of matters. 

Mr Kennedy said there was some “ambiguity” in respect of where the offences were alleged to have been committed and he asked the High Court to use its power to seek further information, in light of the objections raised by Mr Harrison’s lawyers. 

Counsel for Mr Harrison, Siobhán Stack SC, said her client was travelling on an Irish passport, but the warrant referred to him as a British citizen.

She said her client’s nationality was critical in determining whether his surrender was prohibited on grounds of “extra-territoriality”.

Ms Stack said the warrant was rendered fundamentally defective by the “extreme lack of information”. All that it alleged was that Mr Harrison delivered the trailer in which 39 people were subsequently found dead in Britain, but the warrant seemed to allege that the offences were committed in Belgium.

There was no information on the “unfortunate people who were found dead on arrival” to the UK or where they died, she said, which was a “critical issue”. 

Furthermore, she said it wasn’t alleged “at all” that there was knowledge on the part of Mr Harrison as to what the UK authorities say was “going on in the background”. 

The warrant was “so brief, perhaps rushed”, that information “simply wasn’t given”. 

Mr Justice Donald Binchy said a number of matters had been identified which required clarification from the UK authorities. 

He said he would ask the issuing judicial authority to provide any further information they had regarding the alleged actions of Mr Harrison, particularly “where each and every act relied upon is alleged to have occurred”.

Mr Justice Binchy said he would invite the issuing judicial authority to comment regarding Mr Harrison’s nationality, in light of what the court was told about his Irish passport. 

He said he wished to deal with the matter expeditiously because “Brexit” loomed large over the surrender request, as it did over all other pending extradition requests to the UK. 

Mr Justice Binchy fixed December 12 next as the date for the resumed hearing. Mr Harrison was remanded in custody to appear before the court again on that date.

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Ruaidhrí Giblin