Northern Ireland

Lorry driver who admitted role in deaths of 39 migrants moved to Maghaberry Prison from England

Maurice Robinson, 29, from Craigavon, Co Armagh, was jailed in 2021 for 13 years and four months after admitting multiple counts of manslaughter.

Lorry driver Maurice Robinson has been moved to prison in Northern Ireland
Lorry driver Maurice Robinson has been moved to prison in Northern Ireland (Essex Police/PA)

A lorry driver jailed for his part in a lucrative people-smuggling operation that ended in the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in an airtight container in Essex has been moved to Maghaberry Prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Maurice Robinson, 29, from Craigavon, Co Armagh, was jailed in 2021 for 13 years and four months after admitting multiple counts of manslaughter.

It was Robinson who discovered the bodies of 39 men, women and children in a refrigerated trailer after picking up the container at Purfleet early on October 23 2019 for a fee of £500.

The PA news agency understands that Robinson, who served the first part of his sentence in England, has now been moved to Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim.

Prisoners can be moved between different jurisdictions in the UK as part of transfer arrangements to allow them access to a “supportive family environment”.

Prison sources have confirmed that Robinson was moved to Maghaberry, a high security prison near Lisburn, in March.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Prison Service said it could not comment on individual cases.

The spokesperson added: “However, prisoners serving sentences in the UK may apply to be transferred from one jurisdiction to another under intra-UK prisoner transfer arrangements providing they meet certain qualifying criteria.

“These include having close family (ie: a partner, children, parents, grandparents or a wider supportive family circle) resident in the receiving jurisdiction.

“These arrangements help provide prisoners with easier access to a supportive family environment, which is considered a crucial element of a prisoner’s rehabilitation journey.”

The statement added: “Transfers are usually on a restricted basis meaning that for the purposes of detention, release and licence recall they remain subject to the laws governing the original sentencing jurisdiction.

“For these prisoners release dates remain unaltered.”

Maurice Robinson’s trailer and tractor unit
Maurice Robinson’s trailer and tractor unit (Essex Police/PA)

Eleven men in total were jailed for their part in the people-smuggling operation that ended in tragedy in 2019.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered at an industrial estate soon after the lorry arrived in the UK on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

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

Each of the 39 victims, and their families, had paid significant sums of money to an organised crime group whose members promised them safe passage to the UK.

Haulage boss Ronan Hughes, 44, of Co Armagh, was described in court as having played a “pivotal” role with his fleet of lorries.

He received £3,000 per migrant successfully transported from the continent to Essex. He admitted plotting to people smuggle and 39 counts of manslaughter and was jailed for 20 years.

Romanian mechanic Gheorghe Nica, 47, of Basildon, Essex, supplied a fleet of drivers to pick up the migrants from a drop-off point near Orsett in Essex for transit to a holding flat in Dulwich, south London, to await payment.

He was found guilty of the manslaughters and people-smuggling conspiracy and jailed for 27 years.

Lorry driver Robinson picked up the trailer at the Port of Tilbury and had been directed by Hughes to give the migrants air but not let them out of the container.

But when he opened the doors of the sealed trailer, he discovered the victims had all died in transit.

He stalled for 23 minutes before ringing 999 while he exchanged a series of calls with Hughes and Nica.

A police investigation identified that he had been involved in the conspiracy for some time.

Robinson pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property.

He was sentenced to 13 years and four months.

Delivering his sentencing remarks at the Old Bailey in January 2021, 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.