The lorry driver who picked up a -25C container carrying 39 migrants who froze to death was part of an international trafficking ring moving large numbers of people into Britain illegally, a court heard today.
Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, who opened the container to find piles of bodies, appeared via video link at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court accused of 39 counts of manslaughter, two counts of people trafficking and one of money laundering.
Wearing a grey prison-issue tracksuit he showed no emotion as the 43 charges he faces were read to him one by one.
Prosecutor Iguyovwe Oghenerouna said the suspect is ‘involved in a global ring facilitating the movement of large numbers of illegal immigrants into the UK’, with his involvement allegedly dating back ten months to last December.
Mr Oghenerouna added: ‘A large number of conspirators are still at large’.
Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, (right) appeared via video link at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court (left) accused of 39 counts of manslaughter, two counts of people trafficking and one of money laundering
Police guard Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court today where the lorry driver at the centre of scandal was sent on to the Old Bailey
The 39 stowaways who died were found in the back of Robinson’s lorry, pictured, after he drive it away from Purfleet docks
Who has been arrested or charged so far?
As police in the UK continue their investigations into the 39 migrants who lost their lives trying to enter the country, this is who has been arrested, charged or bailed by police.
Lorry driver Maurice Mo Robinson: Arrested on suspicion of murder, the 25-year-old was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, people trafficking and money laundering. He appeared in court in Chelmsford today and will appear again at the Old Bailey next month.
Mo Robinson is the truck driver arrested after 39 people were found dead in the back of a lorry he was driving
Joanna Maher, 38, and her husband Thomas, also 38: The Warrington couple who previously told MailOnline they had sold the container are understood to have been held on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter.
They have been bailed until next month.
Mrs Maher, a mother-of-three, pictured with her trucker boss husband Thomas, told MailOnline that she sold the lorry involved in the deaths of 39 migrants to an Irish haulage firm 13 months ago
48-year-old man from Northern Ireland: The latest arrest took place at Stansted Airport. The identity of the man has not yet been revealed, but police said he has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and suspicion of manslaughter.
20-year-old man from Northern Ireland: The man was arrested after getting off a ferry on Saturday afternoon.A blue Scania truck that he was driving has been impounded by the police.
Robinson, from Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, whose partner is expecting twins, did not enter any pleas and spoke only to confirm his name, address and his date of birth.
At the end of the five-minute hearing he was remanded in custody until November 25, where he will appear at the Old Bailey in London.
District Judge Timothy King remanded Robinson into custody, saying: ‘You have heard the nature of the allegations you face and the majority of these can only be dealt with in the crown court.
‘I therefore allocate all matters to the Central Criminal Court’.
Robinson’s solicitor Julian Hayes made no application for bail.
The trucker is understood to have called 999 after opening his rear doors on an industrial estate in Thurrock, Essex, to find piles of dead bodies in the early hours of Wednesday.
Four others have been arrested by police – including the Irish couple who were the last known owners of the lorry, Joanna and Thomas Maher, from Warrington, Cheshire, who have been bailed.
A 48-year-old man, who had not been named, was arrested at Stansted Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and suspicion of manslaughter on Friday night.
24 hours later a 20-year-old man from Northern Ireland was held after getting off a ferry in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, where police impounded his blue Scania lorry.
The names of eight suspected victims feared dead by their families, are: Pham Tra My, 26, Hung Nguyen, 33, Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26, Le Van Ha, 30, Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, and Hoang Van Tiep, 18.
Their horrific stories have started to emerge as their families revealed they had not heard from their loved-ones since the tragedy on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
The victims appear to mainly be from Vietnam, travelling on fake Chinese passports provided by traffickers based in the Fujian region east of Hong Kong, dominated by the so-called ‘Snakeshead’ gangs.
In Belgium, police are hunting the driver who delivered the trailer to Zeebrugge, the port it left before arriving in the UK.
All of the victims have now been moved from the truck in Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.
Essex Police initially believed they were all Chinese nationals, but Vietnamese men and women are now feared to be among the dead.
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore said the nationality of the victims is not yet known, but the focus is now on the Vietnamese community – although ‘there may be other nationalities involved’.
Joanna and Thomas Maher, arrested in connection with Essex lorry deaths because of historic links to the lorry. They have now been released on bail
On Saturday police seized three expensive cars and a motorbike belonging to an Irish haulage company boss and his wife from their drive in Warrington
Robinson arrived in the UK at the weekend after a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. He picked up the trailer, which had been shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet. Minutes later, he pulled into the Essex industrial estate and the alarm was raised
What is Northern Irish lorry driver Mo Robinson charged with?
39 counts of manslaughter of ‘persons unknown’ on or around October 24
One count of conspiracy to commit human trafficking between December 1 2018 and October 24 2019
One count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between December 1 2018 and October 24 2019
One count of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property
One count of acquiring criminal property
He said there were ‘very, very few’ identity documents recovered and that police will share fingerprints with Vietnamese authorities in a bid to identify the bodies.
The BBC said it has been in contact with six Vietnamese families who fear their relatives are among the dead, with some having the smuggling fees repaid.
It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.
Belgian officials said the trailer arrived at Zeebrugge at 2.49pm on Tuesday and left the port the same day en route to Purfleet.
The trailer arrived at Purfleet at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and was picked up by the cab, known as the tractor, which arrived from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.
The lorry left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am before police were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays at 1.40am.
Faces of the migrants who died in truck tragedy while trying to enter UK
The bodies of eight women and 31 men could have been frozen in the truck for several days when they were discovered on Wednesday in Grays, Essex, after the container criss-crossed the Channel via refugee hotspots.
It is now thought that as many as 25 of the 39 victims are Vietnamese and from the same impoverished coastal region of Yen Than. Relatives said most were going to work in nail salons.
VietHome, a British organisation which tries to help UK-based Vietnamese residents, said it had been sent 20 photographs and names of people feared to have been inside the lorry container.
Eight suspected victims have so far come to light: Hung Nguyen, Anna Bui Thi Nhung, Nguyen Dinh Tu, Le Van Ha, Vo Ngoc Nam, Pham Thi Tra My, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong and Hoang Van Tiep.
Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over $10,000 with the hope of entering the U.K.
The nail technician who paid £8,800 to make it to Britain
Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over £8,000 [$10,000] with the hope of entering the U.K. to work as a nail technician, according to a relative.
Her mother and a sister today cried as they set up an altar with incense and a photo of the suspected victim where family and friends can pray at their home in Do Thanh village.
The family heard from a friend living in the UK that ‘Nhung is one of the victims,’ said one of her relatives, who was visiting the missing teen’s mother.
Nhung and many others from Yen Thanh district, where the village is located, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Hanoi, travel abroad looking to make the type of money they cannot earn back home. One of their main goals is to send back enough to allow their families to build large homes that they would otherwise be unable to afford.
On October 21, days before her family lost contact with her and the news of the doomed shipping container emerged, Nhung wrote in a Facebook post: ‘Being grown up means having to hide your sadness in the dark, and keeping a smile on your face.’
A relative looks at an image of Nhung. The 19-year-old wanted to work as a nail technician, according to a relative
Nhung’s family said she first left Nhung on her journey overseas in August. She went to China first, before eventually making her way to Germany, then Belgium, where they believe she boarded the fated truck.
‘I just want a peaceful life,’ Nhung wrote in a caption beneath a photo of her smiling in a green field a few weeks after leaving Vietnam.
Late on Saturday night, Nhung’s family, devoid of hope, set up an altar in her memory, with her photo next to her father’s.
Her father died of cancer a few years ago. Her mother was unable to work because of health complications and so her loved ones clubbed together to finance a new life overseas, Nhung’s family said.
‘Nhung didn’t have the qualifications to get a good job with handsome pay. Nor do her friends and many others here,’ said Nhung’s uncle, Hoang Binh.
‘Going abroad and sending back money was the only choice,’ he added.
By early September, it was not clear where she was, but Nhung was already well into her trip, and reflecting on her next steps.
Beside a stock image of two children flying kites at sunset, she posted: ‘As I grow up, I see that life is not as peaceful as I used to think. When I grow up, I want to go back to my childhood, when I lived freely’.
Ton Quang Tuan, one of Nhung’s friends living in Berlin, said that ‘We went out a few times when Nhung was in Berlin’ and added that ‘she was in a good mood, very happy,’ but they lost contact after she said she had to leave for Britain.
It was not clear how Nhung had travelled from the Vietnamese countryside to China and then Berlin, but the German capital has emerged in recent years as a staging ground for Vietnamese and other migrants looking to start new lives in Britain.
‘I feel lonely in the place I used to dream of everyday,’ Nhung wrote on September 25.
It was unclear where she was – Vietnamese smugglers are said to advise their subjects to live discreetly and not to give away too many clues in order to evade detection from the authorities.
A few days later, Nhung was pictured outside Berlin Cathedral with a cup of bubble tea in her hands.
By late October, Nhung was in Belgium. She posted photos of herself, again with a cup of bubble tea in her hand, excitedly exploring the sights of Brussels, including the old stock exchange and the bustling Rue Auguste Orts thoroughfare.
It was from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge that the doomed container eventually departed. Her family believe that she was on board.
In Berlin, Nhung wrote: ‘Back in Vietnam, I thought Europe was pink. But it turns out it’s black’.
Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’ in the moments before her death, her family have claimed
Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, from Vietnam sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’ in the moments before her death, her family have claimed.
They claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life’.
She is from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province in a part of Vietnam where many of the country’s illegal migrants come from.
Nguyen Thi Phong and Pham Van Thin, told CNN it was ‘very painful’ to receive the text – saying she must have known she was going to die when she sent it.
‘I’ve lost both my loved one and my money,’ her father Pham said, claiming he and his partner scraped together the money to pay for their daughter to travel to the UK.
The pair, who make around $400 a month between them, said the smugglers did not tell them how their daughter would be transported to the UK.
‘The smugglers said that this was a … safe route, that people would go by airplane, car … if I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go,’ Pham added.
A human rights worker in Vietnam, who has spoken with Tra My’s family, revealed she made the perilous journey because her family was in debt and she was desperately trying to help them.
Her family claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life’
In text messages sent at 10.28pm GMT on Tuesday, two hours before they were all found dead, Pham Thi Tra told her mother, ‘I love you so much…I’m sorry’ (pictured)
‘She had just returned from Japan where she was working to try and pay off the debt. And that was not enough and so she looked for a better future,’ she told the BBC.
Asking to remain anonymous, the human rights worker continued: ‘For this girl it is very sad that she took the risk because she was dealing with debt that was created by another man in the family.
‘And I also learnt that the service that she was using was called ‘very important service’ and so it is like a business class ticket on the lorry and with that she had to pay double or three times the price of the cheap ticket.’
The human rights worker added that migrants are told they can vast amounts of money by moving to the UK, and the 26-year-old may have been convinced to purchase a ‘VIP ticket’ to get there.
He family mortgaged the house to get that money for her, the human rights worked added.
Pham Thi Tra’s last text messages were sent at 10.28pm BST on Tuesday – two hours before the truck reached the UK, as it was en route from Belgium.
She told her mother: ‘I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe.’
Tra My’s brother told the BBC on Friday that his sister had told them not to contact her because ‘the organisers’ did not allow her to receive calls.
He said she flew to China from her home in Can Lộc, a rural district of Hà Tĩnh Province in Vietnam, then left for France and initially attempted to cross the border into the UK on October 19, but ‘got caught’ and turned back.
Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, pictured at Montmartre in Paris planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain
20-year-old impoverished Vietnamese province with dreams of a better life in a British nail bar
Another of the suspected victims was revealed to be Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20.
His father Nguyen Dinh Gia said his son told him two weeks ago he planned to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018.
He said he would pay £10,000 [$14,000] for the journey and planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain.
But Gia got a call several days ago from a Vietnamese man saying ‘Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened,’ he told AFP.
‘I fell to the ground when I heard that,’ Gia told AFP.
‘It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead,’ he added.
His father told The Associated Press he had not been able to reach him since last week. He had said he would join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.
‘He often called home but I haven’t been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,’ Nguyen Dinh Gia said. ‘I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it’s safe. He shouldn’t worry about money, I’ll take care of it.’
He said his son left home in central Ha Tinh province to work in Russia in 2017, then on to Ukraine. In April 2018, he arrived in Germany then traveled to France. He told his family that he wanted to go to the UK.
Luong’s older brother, Pham Dinh Hai, said that Luong had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder. The family said they shared the information with local authorities. Luong is also from Ha Tinh.
One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu
The ex-soldier who left his wife and young son at home
One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26, had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom.
Ms Hoang revealed he had been working illegally in Romania and Germany and had begged her for money to get to the UK.
‘I lost contact with him on October 21,’ Thuong said with tears in her eyes. ‘I have a big debt to pay, no hope, and no energy to do anything’.
Tu’s father said relatives in the United Kingdom had told him that Tu was inside the truck, and had been planning to pick him up.
‘They were supposed to pick him up at the drop-off point but they called and said Tu was in that truck,’ Tu’s father, Nguyen Dinh Sat, said.
‘I haven’t heard anything from my son’.
Tu had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong (pictured with her son) to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom
Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container
Father-of-two who called his family on day of tragedy asking them to pray for his safe journey to Britain
Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container.
His wife, Ta Thi Oanh, told Vietnamese media that he had called her last Tuesday afternoon to say he was on the truck going to Britain.
He asked her to call her parents and ask them to pray for him, but has not been heard of since.
Mr Nam’s father, Vo Ngoc Luyen, said: ‘After reading information about the 39 people in the container in the UK, my family is extremely shocked. We are anxiously waiting for official information from the authorities.’
Nam is believed to have travelled to Romania, before Germany and France, to find work. The local report described the family situation as ‘difficult’.
Hoang Van Tiep, 18, (right) is feared to have died alongside his cousin in the container
The youngest to die: Victim believed his £13,500 to traffickers would mean a taxi into Britain
Believed to be the youngest victim, Hoang Van Tiep, 18, is feared to have died with his cousin Hung Nguyen.
Tiep left home two years ago after his family got a £13,500 loan to pay for him to travel to Russia and on to France.
He had left his family in Yen Thanh to risk his life getting into the UK.
His father Hoag said his teenager son had also told him that he would be travelling by taxi to the UK. The family had raised the £17,500 to pay people smugglers get the teen into the UK.
Cousins Hung Nguyen, 33, (right) and Hoang Van Tiep (left) were both feared to be in the container
The dishwasher who had been trafficked to France and had waited for his cousin before crossing the Channel
Hung Nguyen, 33, had been working in France as a dishwasher before his trip to Britain.
His family paid smugglers £13,400 last year to get him to France, and were asked for a similar amount last week.
He was reunited with his cousin Hoang Van Tiep for the final leg of the journey to Britain and are feared dead together, their families say.
A picture of carpenter Le Van Ha is kept on a prayer altar at his house in Vietnam’s Nghe province
Former policeman who never met his new baby back home in Vietnam
Carpenter Le Van Ha is feared to have died without ever meeting his three-month-old son.
The 30-year-old left his heavily pregnant wife and their two young sons in June, when he travelled to Turkey, then Greece and France on his way to Britain.
Relatives said his widow Tran Thi Hoa, 29, was suffering from shock after she only learned he was missing when officials asked her for a photograph to help with identification.
His father Le Minh Huan said Ha had wanted to send money home to his family, to clear the £23,000 paid to people smugglers and another £6,600 loan to build his family’s home.