#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 6°C Monday 8 March 2021
Advertisement

Four men jailed over deaths of 39 migrants found in lorry in Essex

The bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were found after the container arrived from Europe in October 2019.

Gheorghe Nica (left) and Eamonn Harrison (right) at the Old Bailey in London
Gheorghe Nica (left) and Eamonn Harrison (right) at the Old Bailey in London
Image: Elizabeth Cook via PA Images

Updated Jan 22nd 2021, 3:22 PM

FOUR MEN HAVE been jailed for the manslaughter of 39 migrants, who suffered an “excruciating” death in an airtight trailer.

The victims, Vietnamese men, woman and children, had hoped for a better life in Britain when they agreed to pay up to £13,000 a head for a “VIP” smuggling service.

On 22 October 2019, they were placed into a lorry container to be shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet in Essex.

The Old Bailey heard how they tried to raise the alarm as they ran out of air before reaching British shores.

The migrants, two aged just 15, were found dead by lorry driver Maurice Robinson who collected the trailer from the docks early the next morning.

Robinson, 26, of Craigavon, and his boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, had admitted plotting to people smuggle and 39 counts of manslaughter.

Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, and Eamonn Harrison, 24, of County Down, who had collected the victims on the continent, were found guilty of the offences.

Today, Robinson, who also admitted money laundering, was jailed for 13 years and four months in jail, Hughes was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Nica to 27 years and Harrison to 18 years.

Mr Justice Sweeney said: “I have no doubt that, as asserted by the prosecution, the conspiracy was a sophisticated, long running, and profitable one to smuggle mainly Vietnamese migrants across the channel.”

The migrants had desperately tried to break out of the trailer and raise the alarm before they suffered an “excruciatingly slow death”, the judge said.

Other members of the gang were also jailed for their role in the organised criminal operation.

Lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, was jailed for seven years; Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham, was handed four and a half years; and Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, from Essex, was sentenced to three years in custody.

Smuggling

The court had heard the operation was long-running and profitable, with the smugglers standing to make more than a million pounds in October 2019 alone.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

A total of seven smuggling trips were identified between May 2018 and 23 October 2019, although the court heard that there were likely to have been more.

Migrants would board lorries at a remote location on the continent to be transported to Britain where they would be picked up by a fleet of smaller vehicles organised by Nica for transfer to a safe house until payment was received.

The fee was between £10,000 and £13,000, for the “VIP route” in which the driver was aware of the presence of smuggled migrants inside the trailer attached to his lorry.

Some of the trips were thwarted by border officials and residents in Orsett, Essex, who had repeatedly reported migrants being dropped off to the police.

Yet the smuggling operation was not stopped until after the tragic journey.

About the author:

Press Association

Read next:

COMMENTS