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Haulier pleads guilty to manslaughter in relation to deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in Essex

Armagh haulier Ronan Hughes pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey today to 39 counts of manslaughter.

Image: Press Association

A HAULIER HAS pleaded guilty to his part in the deaths of 39 migrants in a trailer on the back of a lorry.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after the lorry arrived in Purfleet on a ferry in the early hours of 23 October last year.

Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.

An inquest heard their medical cause of death was asphyxia and hyperthermia – a lack of oxygen and overheating – in an enclosed space.

Haulier Ronan Hughes, aged 40, from Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey today to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019.

It was alleged he played a leading role in the operation, with his trailers and drivers used to transport migrants.

Hughes appeared in the dock alongside Eamonn Harrison, aged 23, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland, who is alleged to have driven the lorry trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it sailed to Purfleet in England.

Harrison pleaded not guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Harrison and Hughes appeared at the Old Bailey after being extradited from the Republic of Ireland in July.

On 8 April, lorry driver Maurice Robinson, aged 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, who discovered the bodies after transporting the container from Purfleet to an alleged pick-up point in Grays, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019 and acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

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In June, Romanian Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, aged 28, of Hobart Road in Essex, admitted one count of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration between May 2018 and October 2019.

During the hearing today, Gazmir Nuzi, aged 42, of Barclay Road, Tottenham, north London, appeared at the Old Bailey by video link and pleaded guilty to a single charge of assisting unlawful immigration on or before 11 October 2019 and 18 April 2020.

Harrison now faces an Old Bailey trial on 5 October with three other defendants.

Gheorghe Nica, aged 43, of Langdon Hills, Basildon, Essex, who is alleged to have been a key player, has previously denied 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. Valentin Calota, aged 37, of Birmingham, and Christopher Kennedy, aged 23, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, have denied being part of a people smuggling conspiracy.

Remanding the defendants into custody, Mr Justice Sweeney said the trial would go on for five weeks instead of eight.

A further hearing was fixed for 21 September for a pre-trial review.

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