Essex lorry people smugglers who killed 39 migrants in locked van jailed

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Four people-smuggling ringleaders convicted of the manslaughter of 39 migrants have been jailed at the Old Bailey.

On Friday afternoon Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica were sentenced to 20 years and 27 years in prison respectively for playing "leading roles" in the tragedy.

Meanwhile Eamonn Harrison, 24, who towed the lorry to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before the journey to the UK, was sentenced to 18 years.

Maurice Robinson, 26, who collected and opened the lorry to find the migrants dead, was given 13 years and four months.

Three others members of the people-smuggling gang were also sentenced for assisting unlawful immigration.

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Christopher Kennedy, 24, was jailed for seven years, Valentin Calota, 38, for four-and-a-half years and Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, for three years.

The bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals, including some children, were found in the back of a lorry in October 2019 in an industrial park in Grays, Essex.

They had died while being transported in a container that reached a searing 40C at points, with carbon dioxide levels also rising to an unsurvivable point.

The victims – men, women and children aged 15-44 – travelled in the "unbearable" temperature for at least 12 hours.

They had each paid more than £10,000 to be smuggled into Britain and had desperately tried to contact loved ones as they slowly died in the lorry.

The court heard the migrants had attempted to punch a hole in the lorry with a metal pole but only managed to make a dent.

Sentencing, Mr Justice Sweeney said: "I have no doubt that the conspiracy was a sophisticated, long-running and profitable one to smuggle mainly Vietnamese people across the channel.

"There were desperate attempts to contact the outside world by phone and to break through the roof of the container.

"All were to no avail and, before the ship reached Purfleet, [the victims] all died in what must have been an excruciatingly painful death."

  • Migrants
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