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Alleged 'ringleader' of crime gang to be extradited from Ireland to UK over 39 Essex lorry deaths

The bodies of eight women and 31 men, all Vietnamese nationals.were found on 23 October 2019.

File photo. Ronan Hughes.
File photo. Ronan Hughes.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jun 12th 2020, 2:57 PM

THE ALLEGED ‘RINGLEADER’ of an organised crime gang who is wanted to face manslaughter charges over the deaths of 39 migrants in a lorry container last year will be extradited to the UK next week.

After ordering his extradition to the United Kingdom, High Court judge Mr Justice Paul Burns heard that Ronan Hughes (40) wants to be surrendered to authorities there “as soon as possible”. The judge ruled that the order will take effect on Monday.

Hughes, from Leitrim, Silverstream, Tyholland, Co Monaghan, is suspected of being “the ringleader” of an organised crime group who trafficked the Vietnamese nationals and is wanted in the UK to face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

The bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in an industrial park in Grays, Essex on 23 October, 2019. The migrants had arrived in England last October on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the youngest of the victims were two boys aged 15.

The haulier was present in court today for the hearing. He is the second man from Northern Ireland to be arrested here on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as part of the Essex police investigation.

Hughes was arrested on the evening of 20 April at his home in Co Monaghan following the endorsement of a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by the police in Essex and had fought his proposed extradition to the UK through the Irish High Court.

Opposing the application for Mr Hughes’ surrender to the UK in May, Remy Farrell SC argued that many of the offences alleged against his client had occurred outside of UK territory.

Mr Farrell said there was a distinct lack of clarity in the warrant as to whether the issuing State was asserting that the offences were extraterritorial or if they had occurred in their territory.

“It is a matter for this court to decide if the offences are extraterritorial,” he said, adding that much of what the issuing judicial authority indicated was that these were extraterritorial offences.

The lawyer said something can be both territorial and extraterritorial at the same time and there can be competing assertions of jurisdiction. The warrant seemed to be asserting that a certain extraterritorial position existed, he maintained. He said that on any view much of what was being alleged against his client had occurred outside the UK.

Mr Justice Paul Burns today rejected Mr Hughes’ points of objection and made an order to surrender him to the UK authorities.

Delivering his judgement, Mr Justice Burns said Remy Farrell SC, for Mr Hughes, had submitted that the alleged offences had occurred outside the UK and relied upon the multiplicity of locations referred to in the narrative of events contained within the warrant.

The judge pointed out that reference to a number of different locations and/or to events which took place in a number of different states does not in and of itself mean that an offence is alleged to have been committed in a place outside the issuing state.

The question of jurisdiction is a separate matter from the place where the offence is alleged to have been committed, he said.

The judge said section 44 of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) Act of 2003 sets out a two-part test for determining whether surrender is prohibited.

Firstly, it must be established that the offence specified in the EAW was committed or is alleged to have been committed in a place other than the issuing state, he said.

Secondly, it must be established that the act or omission of which the offence consists does not, by virtue of having been committed in a place other than the State, constitute an offence under the law of the State, he said.

Mr Justice Burns said that only where there is obvious ambiguity or a manifest error as to the alleged location of the offence should the court consider looking beyond what is alleged in the warrant.

“I find no such ambiguity or manifest error in the warrant before me. The Respondent did not seek to put in evidence anything which might have undermined or cast doubt as to the matters set out in the warrant, in particular when and where is it alleged the victims had died,” he added.

The judge went on to say that it is a longstanding principle of law that a person may commit an offence in one jurisdiction while being physically present in another jurisdiction. However, he explained that the question of jurisdiction is a separate issue to where the offence is alleged to be committed and there may be overlapping jurisdictions in some instances.

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In relation to the charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, the judge said he was satisfied that the offence of conspiracy, if committed, did indeed occur in the UK.

It was alleged that the conspirators, including the respondent Mr Hughes, made use of premises within the UK and that a PIN to enable transport through Purtfleet Port was obtained by Mr Hughes. The conspirators including the respondent had also allegedly met up in the UK in furtherance of the conspiracy, he said.

Furthermore, Mr Justice Burns said the manslaughter charges were also alleged to have occurred in the UK and the crime is not complete until the deaths occur.

It is clear from the particulars set out in the warrant that it is alleged that the death of the “unfortunate 39 Vietnamese nationals” occurred after the vessel had entered UK territorial waters and therefore these alleged offences were committed in the UK, he said, adding that the territorial limits of a state include its territorial waters.

“Moreover, it is clear from the particulars set out in the warrant that it is alleged that the deaths were brought about by the manner in which the unlawful conspiracy to assist illegal immigration into the UK was put into effect and carried out by the conspirators including actions carried out in the UK. The deaths were the ultimate completion of the manslaughter charges,” he pointed out.

Mr Justice Burns went on to say that he was satisfied that the alleged offences occurred within the UK. The respondent had failed to satisfy the first requirement of section 44 and therefore it was not necessary for the court to consider whether or not the second requirement of section 44 was met, he said. He then dismissed Mr Hughes’ objection made pursuant to section 44.

There was no evidence to suggest that the deaths had not occurred in UK territorial waters, said the judge, before he ordered the surrender of Mr Hughes to the UK.

Following a short adjournment, Counsel for the Minister for Justice Ronan Kennedy SC told the judge that he had spoken to Mr Farrell, for Mr Hughes, who said his client would like to be surrendered as soon as possible. Mr Kennedy said he was applying to the court for the order to take effect from Monday as opposed to the usual 15 day period.

Mr Justice Burns ordered that Mr Hughes be remanded in custody for not more than 15 days and said the order was to take effect from 15 June, 2020.

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Alison O'Riordan

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