Chilling photos released by police show how some of the 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated in the back of a lorry while being smuggled into Britain tried to create air holes with a metal pole.
The photos have been issued as those responsible for their deaths have been convicted for manslaughter and people smuggling offences after a 10-week trial at the Old Bailey today.
Members of the million-pound people-smuggling ring could be facing life behind bars for the manslaughter of the 39 migrants.
The Vietnamese men, women and children, aged between 15 and 44, were found dead in the back of a trailer in Essex on October 23 last year.
They had suffocated in sweltering temperatures as the airtight container was shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.
The ‘unscrupulous’ gang behind the illegal shipment were motivated by greed as they pursued profits of more than £1 million that month alone.
Following a 10-week trial, Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Basildon, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from County Down, were found guilty today of 39 counts of manslaughter.
They were also convicted of their part in the people-smuggling operation with lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham.
Eight people have now been convicted after 39 men, women and children, aged 15 to 44, were found dead in the back of a lorry when it stopped in Thurrock, Essex, in October last year
A photo showing pole marks inside the lorry trailer after migrants attempted to make air holes shortly before they suffocated
A graphic used by Essex Police illustrating location of the 39 bodies found inside a container lorry in Grays, Essex
Eamonn Harrison (right), 23, of County Down, and Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica (left), 43, of Basildon, have been convicted of 39 counts of manslaughter at the Old Bailey today
A timeline of events surrounding the Essex lorry death tragedy
– May 9 2018: Eamonn Harrison is stopped at Coquelles in France driving a lorry into the Channel Tunnel. It is found to have 18 Vietnamese nationals hidden in the back sitting on boxes of waffles. He is issued with a fine which is never paid.
– May 1 2019: Harrison is caught drink-driving in Drantum, Germany, after he lost control and his lorry toppled over. He is convicted and ordered to pay 855 euro.
– October 9 2019: At 9.04pm, Harrison’s GPS tracker places his truck in La Chappelle d’Armentieres in northern France. He beds down for the night in Bailleul.
– October 10: Harrison makes a series of stops in Nieppe, La Chapelle d’Armentieres and Lissewege before he delivers a human cargo to Zeebrugge in Belgium to be transported to Purfleet in Essex.
– October 11: At 7am, the trailer containing the migrants is picked up in Purfleet by lorry driver Christopher Kennedy and taken to a drop-off point near Orsett Golf Club.
– At 8.18am, Gheorghe Nica, Alexandru Hanga, Marius Draghici and Gazmir Nuzi are caught on CCTV allegedly arriving in convoy.
– At 8.22am, Marie Andrews and Stewart Cox, who live on Collingwood Farm, Orsett, see a red lorry with a white trailer pull up, together with four black Mercedes vehicles. As they watched, 15 to 20 people jump out of the lorry and run to the Mercedes.
– October 14: At 7.25am Kennedy travels from Dover to Calais with the same lorry, but a different trailer.
– At 11.50pm, Kennedy is stopped at Coquelles, en route to Folkestone via the Eurotunnel. Twenty Vietnamese nationals are discovered in his trailer and taken away by the border authorities, but Kennedy is allowed to continue with his journey. It later transpires two of the migrants are among the victims.
– October 17: Harrison makes a second successful run, dropping off a container load of migrants at Zeebrugge with a consignment of biscuits.
– October 18: At 7.24am, Kennedy picks up the trailer and takes it to the same pick-up point at Orsett. Valentin Calota is one of the drivers brought by Nica to collect the new arrivals and drive them over the Dartford crossing and into south-east London.
In the afternoon, Barbara Richmond-Clarke, warehouse manager at Lenham Storage, in Kent, rejects the delivery of crushed and dirty biscuit boxes.
In the evening, haulier boss Ronan Hughes, lorry driver Maurice Robinson, Draghici and Nica – now carrying a heavy bag full of cash – meet at the Ibis Hotel in Thurrock.
At 9.53pm, Harrison is found drunk in Bruges, Belgium, and is stopped by police.
-October 19: At 9.09am, police find Harrison’s truck has been parked illegally and ask him to move.
– October 22: From 5.47am, five of the victims’ phones are used in Paris.
– Around 9am, more are detected on the Belgian border between Dunkerque and Lille.
– From 9.21am, CCTV shows three taxis arriving at Bierne, northern France, followed by Harrison’s lorry.
– At 1.41pm Harrison’s lorry arrives at Zeebrugge port.
– At 2.52pm, the trailer containing 39 people, aged between 15 and 44, is loaded onto the MV Clementine which sails late, at 3.36pm.
– At 7.37 pm, young father Nguyen Tho Tuan records a message for his family saying: ‘It’s Tuan. I am sorry. I cannot take care of you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I cannot breathe. I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.’
– Between 9.42pm and 10.42pm, the temperature in the trailer peaks at 38.5 Celsius.
– Between 10pm and 10.30pm the atmosphere is estimated to have reached toxic levels, killing all 39 victims.
– October 23: At 12.18am, the Clementine docks at Purfleet.
– At 1.07am, Robinson collects the trailer, some 12 hours after it was sealed. He is instructed by Hughes via Snapchat to ‘give them air quickly don’t let them out’.
Robinson drives out of Purfleet, stops and opens the doors at the back. He stands for 90 seconds before getting back in the cab.
– From 1.15 am, Robinson drives around for seven minutes before returning to the same location on Eastern Avenue. He opens the rear doors again, calls Hughes for one minutes and 42 seconds and takes a minute-long call from Nica.
Over 15 minutes, there is a flurry of telephone contact between Hughes, Robinson, Kennedy and Nica, who leaves the area of Collingwood Farm.
– At 1.36am, Robinson telephones 999 and requests an ambulance.
– At 1.50am, police arrived on the scene and find Robinson looking ‘calm’ by the trailer.
Later that morning, Kennedy tells a friend via text: ‘must have been 2 many and run out of air.’
Nica takes an evening flight from Luton to Romania.
– October 24: Draghici flies to Bucharest, in Romania, and remains at large.
– November 22: Kennedy is arrested after the lorry he is driving on the M40 in Oxfordshire is stopped.
– February 7 2020 Nica is extradited to the UK after being detained in Frankfurt under a European Arrest Warrant.
– March 14: Calota is arrested on arrival at Birmingham airport from Romania.
– April 8: Robinson pleads guilty at the Old Bailey to 39 counts of manslaughter.
– June 23: Hughes is extradited from the Republic of Ireland to the UK and pleads guilty to the manslaughter in August.
– July 22: Harrison is extradited to the UK having been detained at Dublin Port, Ireland, under European Arrest Warrant, on October 26 2019.
– October 5: Nica and Harrison go on trial at the Old Bailey for manslaughter. Harrison, Calota and Kennedy are accused of being involved in a wider people-smuggling conspiracy, which Nica, Robinson, Hughes and two others have admitted.
– December 21: they are convicted of manslaughter
The verdicts bring the total number of people convicted in Britain to eight, including haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson, of Craigavon, who admitted manslaughter.
Prosecutors are considering charges against a further three people.
The maximum sentence for people-smuggling is 14 years in prison with manslaughter carrying a possible life sentence.
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, of Essex Police, said the gang were ‘greedy’ but ‘complacent’.
He said: ‘You would not transport animals in that way but they were quite happy to do that and put them at significant risk.’
Since the tragedy, Essex Police had been at the forefront of cracking down on organised immigration crime, Mr Stoten said.
Kelly Matthews, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘Thirty-nine vulnerable people desperate for a new life put their trust in an unscrupulous network of people smugglers.
‘Nothing can bring back the lives lost on that day or the loss caused by the horrible, unlawful and dangerous actions of these defendants.
‘But we hope these convictions bring some measure of solace to the families in the knowledge that justice has been done.’
The Director of Threat Leadership for the National Crime Agency (NCA), Rob Jones, said: ~The organised criminal groups involved in immigration crime are callous and treat migrants as a commodity to be profited from. Their only motivation is money, they don’t care about the safety or consequences of their actions.
‘Tragically in this case the consequences were fatal. I am pleased that those responsible will now be held accountable for their actions.
‘I hope this outcome brings some comfort to the families of those who died.’
The NPCC lead for Organised Immigration crime, Shaun Sawyer, said: ‘The inhumanity demonstrated by these men towards the 39 men, women and children who ultimately lost their lives is truly distressing.
‘This year the Home Office has provided extra funding to policing to assist the UK law enforcement effort to disrupt and prosecute these gangs.
‘With this support and the experience learned from this investigation we will continue our endeavour to seek to prevent tragedies such as this from happening again.’
The Old Bailey heard how the gang offered a ‘VIP’ service to Vietnamese migrants, who gathered in Belgium and France.
They charged about £13,000 a head to transport migrants in a trailer via the Channel Tunnel or by boat to Essex.
The network, led by Nica and and Hughes, had been operating for at least 18 months, despite repeatedly coming to the attention of authorities.
In May 2018, Harrison, the ‘man on the Continent’, was fined after being caught at the Channel Tunnel in France with 18 Vietnamese migrants in his trailer.
On October 11 last year, 15 people were shipped in a container dropped at Zeebrugge by Harrison and collected by Kennedy at Purfleet.
They then boarded a fleet of vehicles at Orsett for transfer to Dulwich where they were held by a Vietnamese man named Phong, whose job was to take payment, jurors heard
Orsett resident Marie Andrews had witnessed the drop and rang police to report her concerns three times that day.
Three days later, Kennedy was stopped by French border agents at the Channel Tunnel.
He was sent on his way after 20 migrants were removed from his trailer, two of whom were among the dead on October 23.
On October 17 last year, Harrison took 15 migrants and a load of macaroons and Bakewell tarts to Zeebrugge.
On arrival, Kennedy dropped the human cargo off at Orsett then helped Hughes try to disguise the fact that the biscuits were trampled and crushed.
That night, Nica was caught on CCTV with Hughes at a hotel in Essex carrying a bag containing £50,000, which he had allegedly collected from Phong.
On the morning of October 22, Harrison picked up 39 migrants from Bierne in France.
His trailer was loaded on to the Clementine ship which departed from Zeebrugge at about 4pm, docking at Purfleet shortly after midnight.
Robinson, who collected the trailer at 1.08am, was instructed by Hughes via Snapchat to ‘give them air quickly don’t let them out’.
When he opened the doors, a plume of vapour escaped and Robinson stood for 90 seconds.
In the 23 minutes before he dialled 999, Robinson exchanged panicked calls with his boss Hughes and Nica, who had been waiting for him in Orsett with his drivers.
The first police officer on the scene described finding half-naked bodies ‘closely packed’ together lying in the trailer, some ‘frothing at the mouth’.
Mobile phones recovered from the victims showed how they had tried to raise the alarm and left goodbye messages for loved ones as they ran out of air.
Others had used a metal pole to try to punch a hole through the roof or attract attention, the court heard.
Kennedy, Harrison and Calota, who picked up migrants at Orsett on October 18, variously claimed they had thought they were transporting cigarettes, alcohol and stolen lorry parts.
Nica admitted being roped in by convicted cigarette smuggler Hughes for earlier runs, but said he thought Robinson had a load of cigarettes when he showed him where he could unload in Orsett the night before the tragedy.
But prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones told jurors the operation required ‘meticulous’ planning and each defendant had to be ‘in the know’.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: ‘This was a truly tragic incident.
‘While I’m pleased justice has been served, I know it will come as little comfort to the families of those who died. My thoughts remain with those affected by this tragedy.
‘Today’s convictions only strengthen my resolve to do all I can to go after the people smugglers who prey on the vulnerable and trade in human misery.
The group were were from five provinces in the central, coastal area of Vietnam and two provinces near Hanoi
Nguyen Huy Hung (left), 15, was the youngest, while Nguyen Dinh Lurong (right), 20, also died
Q&A: How the people smuggling gang were brought to justice
The investigation into the deaths of 39 migrants resulted in one of the largest manslaughter cases.
Two of those involved in bringing the people smugglers to justice have shared their views.
– Who was behind the people-smuggling ring?
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, from Essex Police, said: ‘The investigation has found it was quite a complex organised crime group behind the people smuggling.
‘Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica were the organisers and the brains behind the crime group and then they had a logistics corps of people involved in the transportation and that included Christopher Kennedy, Eamonn Harrison, Maurice Robinson and others.’
– What drove them to it?
Mr Stoten said: ‘Motivation was purely financial.
‘They were quite willing to put the health and the safety of other people at risk in order to drive that greed.
‘If you look at the victims and the previous people who were transported to the UK, you would not transport animals in that manner.
‘But they (the smugglers) were quite happy to do that and put them at significant risk.’
– What about the 39 Vietnamese nationals who died?
Kelly Matthews, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘This is an unimaginably tragic case.
‘Thirty-nine vulnerable people desperate for a new life put their trust in an unscrupulous network of people smugglers.
‘They died through a lack of oxygen, desperately trying to escape from a sealed container.
‘Many, when their plight became hopeless, sent messages to loved ones via their mobile phones.’
– What was the effect on the officers who found the 39 bodies?
Mr Stoten said: ‘The officers that first attended that incident did an amazing job.
‘Almost all of those officers that attended were really young in service and it was quite possibly the first time that some of them had ever seen a deceased person.
‘So, to have been met with 39 people … an absolutely horrendous scene in front of them.
‘I’m quite certain that this will stay with them for the rest of their career and quite probably the rest of lives.’
– Why were there so many people in that particular trailer?
Mr Stoten said: ‘The crime group had an almost tried and tested system of usually between 15 and 20 people and that has worked for them.
‘It’s still dangerous, very dangerous.
‘My personal view is that there was something that happened just prior to the 22nd (October) that meant there were another 19 or 20 people that did not come across as they were planning to and, because of pure greed, they decided they were going put all of them into the container.
‘They could have held off for a week or two weeks and then transported them in a less dangerous manner but they didn’t because they wanted the money.
‘So they put 39 of them in a container knowing full well that was an extremely dangerous thing to do.’
– How much money did the gang stand to make?
Mr Stoten said: ‘Between £10,000 and £12,000 per person, the lion’s share of which would have gone to Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica.’
Together with two successful runs on October 11 and 18 last year, some 80 people were smuggled into Britain, paying between £10,000 and £20,000 each – ‘a huge amount of money’, he said.
– Is there evidence that the gang had got away with it for longer?
‘We’ve certainly seen evidence they have been doing this for some time,’ said Mr Stoten.
‘Their greed did not diminish but their complacency did increase.’
– Were there missed opportunities to stop them?
Mr Stoten said police carried out a search after a resident in Orsett reported a drop of migrants on October 11 last year.
He said: ‘We did actually respond quite quickly to that, and some intelligence work was completed immediately and that related to an ANPR (automatic number-plate recognition) search.
‘Unfortunately the people had left the area.
‘What we do know is Kennedy’s lorry does not activate ANPR.
‘We do not know the exact reason for that; it could be that the plates have been adjusted or it could be as one of the witnesses said it was covered up so there were less opportunities to identify that through technology.’
– Has the tragedy led to changes in policing procedures?
Mr Stoten said: ‘Going forward, we actually changed not only the procedures of Essex Police but we have been a forerunner in changing the way the country responds to organised immigration crime.
‘So now, when people are stopped and found to be in the back of lorries or vans etc, we are looking at that.
‘Most often the driver is arrested, and that didn’t happen before.’
– How strong was the evidence in this case?
‘Four people pleaded guilty before the trial.
‘I don’t think they did that because they thought it was the right thing to do; they did that because of the sheer weight of the evidence against them,’ said Mr Stoten.
Ms Matthews said: ‘There was substantial evidence gathered from overseas as well as the UK to bring the case and prove the case.
‘We were able to show that if you put people in a sealed container with no way of opening it there is a risk of some harm, whether that be one person or 100 people inside.’
– What is your reaction to the convictions?
Mr Stoten said: ‘I’m pleased we have got justice for the victims’ families and for the victims, and I hope that gives them some closure.’
Ms Matthews said: ‘Nothing can bring back the lives lost on that day or the loss caused by the horrible, unlawful and dangerous actions of these defendants, but we hope these convictions bring some measure of solace to the families in the knowledge that justice has been done.
‘By these convictions these men bear the full weight of this terrible tragedy.’
– Do these convictions bring the case to a close?
Ms Matthews said: ‘There are a number of individuals that Essex Police are still pursuing.
‘The CPS are currently looking into three additional people within the UK.
‘There were also significant sums of money made from this catastrophic event.
‘We are committed to pursuing any moneys obtained and ensuring no-one profits from this terrible tragedy.’
– What about the international connection?
Ms Matthews said: ‘There are various investigations and prosecutions taking place across Europe by international partners into this criminal network.
‘A number of people were arrested and prosecuted in Vietnam by the Vietnamese.’
There have been eight convictions in Vietnam.
‘I’m determined to bring callous people smugglers to justice and keep our communities safe from the actions of horrendous organised crime groups.
‘I want to thank all the agencies involved in this investigation, specifically Essex Police, the NCA, the Crown Prosecution Service and operational teams in the Home Office for their exemplary professionalism in pursuing convictions.
‘We are fortunate to be served by such outstanding, committed officers, who help keep us safe and support those most in need.’
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, who led the investigation, said: ‘This story started almost eight thousand miles away.Every man, woman and child, some as young as 15, who died in the lorry trailer was from Vietnam.
‘They may have started their journeys at different times but, ultimately, they were all following the false promise of a new life.
‘They put their trust in people they hoped would deliver them safely to our shores. But sadly, that’s not how their journey ended.
‘Family members and friends, many of whom are still thousands of miles away have suffered an unimaginable loss.
‘I know this because my team at Essex Police have heard their stories, and carefully recorded their testimony first-hand.
‘Since our investigation started, nearly 14 months ago more than 1,300 people have worked on this case.
‘And for the detectives, staff and volunteers at Essex Police, and other forces across the country as well as national and international law enforcement, governments and embassies, this will be a case we will never forget.
‘I’d like to say to the families that we are one step closer to getting you the justice you deserve.
‘It won’t bring your loved ones back, but I hope it will offer some solace. Our thoughts are with you, today and always.’
Russell Tyner, of the CPS Organised Crime Division, said: ‘This is an unimaginably tragic case. 39 vulnerable people desperate for a new life were driven to put their trust in a network of unscrupulous people smugglers and they suffered horrific consequences – not through their own fault but due to the sheer greed of others.
‘They died through lack of oxygen, desperately trying to escape from the container.
‘Some were able to express their last words to their families on their mobile phones when they knew their situation was hopeless.’
During the trial, the court had heard a couple comforted each other as their dream of a life in Britain slipped away in the back of a dark, hot trailer.
Tran Hai Loc and Nguyen Thi Van, both 35, were still huddled together when they were discovered among the 39 dead on October 23 last year.
Their bodies were carefully removed from the trailer, still holding hands, and taken to hospital together.
The couple had travelled by plane to work in Hungary as fruit pickers for one-and-a-half months, having organised the placement through a labour company in Hanoi at a cost of 7,000 US dollars (£6,000) each.
Their families last heard from them on October 18 last year when they phoned to say their plans had changed.
Four days later, they and the other men, women and children had made their way to a pick-up point en route to Zeebrugge in Belgium, with one group coming from Paris and another from Brussels.
Jurors at the Old Bailey heard that there could have been a 40th migrant on the trip, but for the fact that he was late for his rendezvous with Eamonn Harrison’s lorry in Bierne, northern France.
During the cross-Channel trip on board the Clementine, the group had desperately tried to raise the alarm, even calling the Vietnamese emergency number, as they ran out of air.
When they found there was no mobile phone signal in the trailer, some recorded goodbye messages to their families.
Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, told his family: ‘I am sorry. I cannot take care of you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I cannot breathe.
‘I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.’
A metal pole had been used to try to punch through the roof of the refrigerated container, but only managed to dent the interior.
Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones had said: ‘There was no way out, and no-one to hear them, no-one to help them.’
When police were alerted to the deaths by Maurice Robinson, they found the migrants, aged 15 to 44, were half-naked and frothing at the mouth.
They had been dead long enough for rigor mortis to have set in.
Former Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore, who dealt with their identification, said: ‘It was shocking to say the least.’
He said it was important to treat the bodies with ‘dignity and respect’.
‘Dying in such a horrendous way… You could not help but have a great sense there was no panic there.
‘They seem to have died with dignity and respect for each other, just the way the bodies were laid.
‘There is one couple holding hands. They stayed together throughout the transportation to hospital and they stayed together throughout the post-mortems.’
Mr Pasmore said that seeing the tragedy had affected officers, and the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder was uppermost in his mind.
It also had a ‘significant impact’ on the families in Vietnam, many of whom had borrowed thousands of pounds to fund the journey.
Officers handled 391 calls from concerned relatives wanting to identify loved ones.
During the trial, jurors were provided with a snapshot of the victims and their dreams of a better life.
They included a bricklayer, a restaurant worker, a nail bar technician, a budding beautician, and a university graduate, who had worked in IT to save up and fund his own passage.
Their journeys across the world, via travel agencies in Vietnam, had included various stops in Russia, China, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Romania.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, said: ‘This was an international tragedy that happened here in our county.
‘I said we needed to come together as a community to help the police bring whoever was responsible to justice and we did just that and our force has done an outstanding job.
‘I would like to say thank you to every police officer, firefighter, paramedic, staff member and volunteer who was involved in this case beginning with the heart-breaking discovery of the crime, right through to catching those involved and bringing them before the courts.
‘Nothing will ever bring those 39 people back, but I hope their families will be able to take some comfort from the fact that our emergency services treated them and their loved ones with the respect and compassion they deserved as well as working to get justice in their memories.’
Pham Tra My (left and right) 26, was among the 39 people who died in the lorry in Grays, Essex
Lorry driver Maurice Robinson (pictured), 26, had already admitted 39 counts of manslaughter
They would fly to one country, work there so they could build up cash reserves and send some money home, before then attempting the perilous journey to Britain.
Many of their families borrowed thousands of pounds to fund their passage, relying on their potential future earnings once they got in Britain.
Some of the migrants had made repeated failed attempts to be smuggled into the country, with one being turned back five times.
Witness X, a Vietnamese migrant who was smuggled by the gang on October 11 last year, provided an insight into why so many people were prepared to risk everything.
He was attracted to Britain partly because of the language.
Firstly, he had moved from Poland to France after getting a Schengen visa as a business student.
He then arranged his ‘VIP’ trip across the Channel through a Vietnamese connection on Facebook, who put him in contact with someone in Dulwich, south-east London, called Phong.
He got a taxi to a pick up point where he was ushered onto a trailer by the driver, who told them to go ‘quickly’ but ‘keep quiet’.
Before arriving at Zeebrugge, the driver – said to be Eamonn Harrison – stopped once to provide them with water and further instructions, the court heard.
Inside the lorry trailer driven by Maurice Robinson where 39 Vietnamese migrants suffocated
Video played to the court showed the moment officers arrived on scene in Essex and (inset) body cam footage shows an officer looking for signs of life inside the lorry after arriving
The migrants were provided bags to urinate in and told to huddle together in the centre of the trailer when they heard a signal.
After he arrived in Britain safely, witness X was made to stay at Phong’s flat in Dulwich until his parents in Vietnam had transferred the £13,000 payment.
Asked what his plan was, the migrant told jurors: ‘I’m going to go to the Home Office to apply for my papers.’
For every person successfully smuggled into Britain, the lorry drivers potentially pocketed £1,500, police said.
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, of Essex Police, said: ‘So you see this unacceptable disgusting trade was quite financially rewarding for these crime gangs.’
He said the ‘scale and complexity’ of the threat posed by the gangs and the ‘callous nature of their business model’ should never be under-estimated.
Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben Julian Harrington, said: ‘The men who were found guilty today made their money from misery.
They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they didn’t care.
They tried to hide what they were doing. They attempted to evade detection. They thought they could cover up their crimes. Today, they have been proved wrong on every count.
‘While I am immensely proud of the Essex Police and our partners, for this diligent investigation, none of us will stop thinking of the victims and their families.
‘Those family members are, in most cases, halfway across the world, and their lives will never be the same again.We will never forget those 39 victims men, women, and children – who were sold the lie of safe passage to our country.
‘We made their loved ones a promise in the Book of Condolence shortly after the incident: that we would do everything in our power to bring those responsible for that horrific journey to justice. Essex Police has worked hard to deliver on our promise, and I hope that is of some small comfort.’
The risks taken by the crime group responsible for the deaths of 39 migrants found in a lorry container in Essex were ‘sadly not unusual’, a senior Immigration Enforcement official has said.
Steve Dann, director of crime and financial investigations within the Immigration Enforcement unit at the Home Office, said people being trafficked were seen as a commodity, no different to drugs or tobacco.
‘In relation to the risk, sadly the organised crime groups have complete disregard for the people, the commodity as they see it,’ he said.
‘Whether it’s drugs or tobacco, this is just another commodity and they take no interest at all in the health and wellbeing of the migrants.
‘I’ve seen some horrendous conditions, people being brought in.
‘People have been brought in unresponsive because they’re in a coffin-like hide within a vehicle or within a vessel, so sadly no this is not unusual.
‘The numbers were high for a single incident but the crime groups, their methodology, they have complete disregard.’
CCTV shows Eamonn Harrison dropping off the trailer at the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium on October 17, where it would be picked up by Christopher Kennedy, 24, and taken to Essex
CCTV shows Christopher Kennedy in his lorry’s cab arriving at the port of Purfleet in Essex
Maurice Robinson (left) and Ronan Hughes at an Ibis Hotel in Thurrock where they meet Nica
The criminal gang brought the container into the UK through Purfleet port in Essex.
‘I can’t say whether they saw this (entry point) as a soft touch,’ Mr Dann added.
He said that since the incident in October 2019, his agency has worked with colleagues in Zeebrugge in Belgium, where the container began its journey to the UK.
‘We’ve increased our deployments of resources over in Zeebrugge. The same way in the UK we’ve increased our response,’ he said.
‘We’ve developed a multi-agency hub to develop intelligence, to share intelligence quicker, there’s a number of different initiatives that have taken place with this.’
He said that the ‘link hadn’t been drawn’ when French authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle migrants across the Channel on October 14, nine days before the 39 migrants were found dead on October 23.
On October 14, a vehicle driven by haulier Christopher Kennedy was stopped at Coquelles, near Calais in France, and 20 Vietnamese migrants were found in the back, the trial at the Old Bailey was told was told. They were frisked and taken away.
Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh had denied being part of the people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of 39 migrants.
‘At that point the link hadn’t been drawn,’ said Mr Dann.
‘He (Kennedy) was in, I think, it was a Transit van coming in through Coquelles.’
He went on: ‘We have a joint intelligence cell with the French, so we do share intelligence daily and lots of intelligence as well.
‘In relation to linking this, what we have to do with these incidents is start to develop the intelligence into an operation that allows us to identify the crime group behind it.
‘Sometimes, depending on what we’re faced with, it can be done immediately and we do an immediate response, other times it’s about bringing different pieces of the jigsaw together to identify the crime group.’
He said his agency is ‘making every effort to disrupt’ crime groups and that Immigration Enforcement has disrupted 430 organised crime groups so far this year through arrests and preventative action.
‘We see the threats move, it’s quite an agile threat, crime groups are very agile,’ he said.
‘What we have to do is try to stay ahead of the game and be as agile as them.’
Who were the 39 people who died in the Esssex lorry container?
These are the names of the victims of the Essex truck tragedy are:
Pham Thi Tra My, a 26-year-old woman from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Dinh Lurong, a 20-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Huy Phong, a 35-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Vo Nhan Du, a 19-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Tran Manh Hung, a 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Tran Khanh Tho, a 18-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Vo Van Linh, a 25-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Van Nhan, a 33-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Bui Phan Thang, a 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Huy Hung, a 15-year-old boy from Ha Tinh
Tran Thi Tho, a 21-year-old woman from Nghe An
Bui Thi Nhung, a 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
Vo Ngoc Nam, a 28-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Dinh Tu, a 26-year-old man from Nghe An
Le Van Ha, a 30-year-old man from Nghe An
Tran Thi Ngoc, a 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
Nguyen Van Hung, a 33-year-old man from Nghe An
Hoang Van Tiep, a 18-year-old man from Nghe An
Cao Tien Dung, a 37-year-old man from Nghe An
Cao Huy Thanh, a 33-year-old man from Nghe An
Tran Thi Mai Nhung, a 18-year-old woman from Nghe An
Nguyen Minh Quang, a 20-year-old man from Nghe An
Le Trong Thanh, a 44-year-old man from Dien Chau
Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, a 28-year-old woman from Nghe An
Hoang Van Hoi, a 24-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Tho Tuan, a 25-year-old man from Nghe An
Dang Huu Tuyen, a 22-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Trong Thai, a 26-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Van Hiep, a 24-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Thi Van, a 35-year-old woman from Nghe An
Tran Hai Loc, a 35-year-old man from Nghe An
Duong Minh Tuan, a 27-year-old man from Quang Binh
Nguyen Ngoc Ha, a 32-year-old man from Quang Binh
Nguyen Tien Dung, a 33-year-old man from Quang, Binh
Phan Thi Thanh, a 41-year-old woman from Hai Phong
Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, a 34-year-old man from Thua Tien Hue
Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, a 18-year-old man from Hai Phong
Tran Ngoc Hieu, a 17-year-old boy from Hai Duong
Dinh Dinh Binh 15-year-old boy from Hai Phong