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Essex lorry deaths: Ronan Hughes, Eamonn Harrison and Maurice Robinson jailed over deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants

The container lorry in which 39 people were found dead inside as is it driven away by police from Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex
Emily Pennink and Tess De La Mare

Four people-smugglers 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 October 22 2019, they were crammed into a lorry container to be shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet in Essex in pitch black and sweltering conditions.

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

Irish haulier and people smuggling gang leader Ronan Hughes

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.

Hughes's partner in crime 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.

CCTV image dated 23/10/19 issued by Essex Police showing lorry driver Maurice Robinson (26), from Craigavon, leaving Purfleet port, Essex. When he stopped the lorry to give the 39 Vietnamese people on board some air, as instructed, he found them all dead. In the 23 minutes before he dialled 999, Robinson exchanged panicked calls with his boss Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica

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On Friday, 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.

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Lorry driver Eamonn Harrison was convicted last month at the Old Bailey

Left to right top row: Dinh Dinh Binh, Nguyen Minh Quang, Nguyen Huy Phong, Le Van Ha, Nguyen Van Hiep, Bui Phan Thang, Nguyen Van Hung, Nguyen Huy Hung, Nguyen Tien Dung, Pham Thi Tra My. Left to right second row: Tran Khanh Tho, Nguyen Van Nhan, Vo Ngoc Nam, Vo Van Linh, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, Vo Nhan Du, Tran Hai Loc, Tran Manh Hung, Nguyen Thi Van, Bui Thi Nhung, (third row left to right) Hoang Van Tiep, Tran Thi Ngoc, Phan Thi Thanh,Tran Thi Tho, Duong Minh Tuan, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, Le Trong Thanh, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, Hoang Van Hoi, (bottom row left to right) Tran Ngoc Hieu, Cao Tien Dung, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, Dang Huu Tuyen, Nguyen Dinh Luong , Cao Huy Thanh, Nguyen Trong Thai, Nguyen Tho Tuan and Nguyen Dinh Tu, aged between 15 and 44, were found dead in the back of a trailer in Essex on October 23 2019

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