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Monaghan man appears before High Court over deaths of 39 migrants in UK container tragedy

Ronan Hughes is wanted by UK authorities to face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Image: PA

A LORRY DRIVER wanted by UK authorities in relation to the discovery of 39 bodies in a refrigerated trailer in Essex last October, has been brought before the High Court in Dublin on foot of an extradition warrant.

Ronan Hughes (40) is wanted by UK authorities to face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

He was arrested by detectives from the Garda extradition unit at his address in Silverstream, Tyholland, Co Monaghan yesterday evening.

The accused, a haulier, is the second man to be arrested in the Republic following the discovery of the bodies of 39 migrants in a refrigerated trailer in an industrial park in Grays, Esssex on 23 October last.

The bodies were those of eight women and 31 males from Vietnam, including two boys aged 15. Messages of their final hours were discovered on the phones of some of the deceased.

Detective Sergeant Jim Kirwan, head of the Garda’s extradition unit, said he arrested Mr Hughes at his home address at 5.15pm on Monday evening.

The garda said that he was satisfied that the person named in the warrant was the same person he arrested based on his enquiries and the answers he received to questions.

The accused was “sitting in the dock”, the detective told the court, wearing blue jeans and a polo top.

He initially emerged from the custody area of the court wearing a face mask, which he promptly took off.

The garda said he outlined the alleged offences to the Monaghan man and when asked if he had anything to say about the matter. The accused replied “no”.

He was remanded in custody to appear before the court on 1 May next, with liberty to apply for bail next Wednesday, 29 April.

Additional information required

The garda said he arrested the accused as part of a planned operation by the Extradition Unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Immigration Bureau.

He told Ronan Kennedy SC, for the Minister for Justice, that gardaí would be objecting to bail.

The judge said he was satisfied that the person before him was the person in respect of whom the warrant was issued.

The judge informed the accused of his rights, including the right to consent to being surrendered. Conan Fegan BL, for the accused, indicated that legal aid would be sought.

The judge fixed 1 May next as the provisional date for the hearing into the accused’s proposed extradition and remanded the Monaghan man in custody.

The judge indicated that he would require additional information from UK authorities “that seem to be of a technical nature”.

He said he would require further information in relation to the alleged role played by the accused in the alleged offences, and that a reference in the warrant to “modern slavery” appeared to be a “drafting error”.

Furthermore, it wasn’t clear whether any extraterritorial issue – in relation to the commission of offences outside of national territories – was being relied upon by the UK authorities, the judge said.

Temperatures reduced inside truck

In January, the High Court ordered the surrender of Eamon Harrison (22) from Mayobridge, Co Down, to the UK to face 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and conspiracy to commit human trafficking.

It is alleged that Harrison delivered the trailer, in which the bodies of the migrants were found, to a Belgian port before it’s onward journey to Britain. The cargo was recorded as “biscuits”.

In those proceedings, the High Court heard that the sealed refrigeration unit was not turned on and that the people inside died from oxygen starvation.

Temperatures inside the unit rose to 38.5 degrees before it “steadily reduced”, and police discovered “bloody hand prints” inside.

Ordering Harrison’s extradition to the UK in January, Mr Justice Donald Binchy said the British-Irish citizen is alleged to have been involved in transporting illegal migrants on two previous occasions, and that the trailer at the centre of the Essex discovery was used on one of those occasions.

Harrison’s pending extradition has been put on hold ahead of a legal challenge expected to take place in May.

Another man, Maurice Robinson (25), from Craigavon, Co Armagh, was arrested by Essex police at the scene.

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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