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Two men convicted of killing 39 migrants who were found in lorry in Essex

Written by on 21 December 2020

Two men have been convicted of killing 39 migrants who were found dead in a lorry container in Essex last year.

Eamonn Harrison and Gheorghe Nica stood trial accused of the manslaughter of the Vietnamese nationals whose bodies were discovered at an industrial estate in Grays in October 2019.

Temperatures in the unit had reached an “unbearable” 38.5C (101F) as the men, women and children, aged 15 to 44, were sealed inside for at least 12 hours, the court heard.

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The migrants were found dead at an industrial estate in Grays, Essex

They had each paid more than GBP10,000 to be smuggled into the UK and had desperately tried to raise the alarm as they suffocated inside the pitch-black refrigerated unit, which had been switched off, jurors were told.

Following a two-month trial at the Old Bailey, lorry driver Harrison was found guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter, while organiser Nica was convicted of the same charges.

Eamonn Harrison has denied killing the 39 migrants
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Eamonn Harrison denied killing the migrants
Gheorghe Nica pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of the migrants
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Gheorghe Nica pleaded not guilty to manslaughter

Harrison, from County Down, Northern Ireland, was also found guilty of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration – a charge that Nica, from Basildon, Essex, admitted, although he denied involvement in the fatal journey.

Two other defendants, lorry driver Christopher Kennedy and Valentin Calota, were found guilty of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Lorry driver Maurice Robinson and haulage boss Ronan Hughes had previously admitted the manslaughter of the migrants.

Lorry driver Maurice Robinson is seen leaving Purfleet port in Essex after collecting the trailer containing the migrants
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Maurice Robinson pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of the migrants
Ronan Hughes has pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter
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Ronan Hughes also pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter

The court heard that Robinson – who discovered the bodies after collecting the trailer when it arrived in Purfleet, Essex – had received a message from Hughes which read: “Give them air quickly, don’t let them out.”

Most of the migrants are believed to have boarded the lorry container in northern France before it was driven to Zeebrugge in Belgium and loaded on to a cargo ship bound for Purfleet on 22 October last year.

They included university graduates, restaurant and nail bar workers, a bricklayer and a hairdresser, with some of the victims’ families borrowing thousands of pounds to pay for the fatal journey.

A message sent from Ronan Hughes to Maurice Robinson said: 'Give them air quickly don't let them out'
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A message sent from Ronan Hughes to Maurice Robinson read: ‘Give them air quickly don’t let them out’
Pham Thi Tra My, from Vietnam, is one of the suspected victims
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Pham Thi Tra My, 26, was among those on board the lorry

After Robinson collected the container shortly after midnight on 23 October, CCTV footage showed the moment he parked his lorry and opened the trailer to find 39 people dead inside.

He called Hughes and Nica before dialling 999 some 23 minutes after discovering the bodies.

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Moment lorry driver found dead migrants

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999 call of lorry driver who found bodies

Giving evidence, Harrison, 23, denied knowing there were people in his trailer on 22 October or on two earlier, successful people-smuggling trips.

He told jurors he thought he was dealing with “stolen goods” and he was watching Netflix in bed at the time the trailer was loaded on 22 October.

Nica, 43, admitted arranging onward transport for the two previous successful people-smuggling trips on October 11 and 18 last year, but denied being involved in the tragedy on 22/23 October.

The British-Romanian told jurors he had a “burner” phone for his four girlfriends, not smuggling.