Six men due in court accused of people-smuggling over container deaths

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Six men are due to appear at the Old Bailey accused of being part of a people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of 39 people in the back of a container. The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after the container arrived in Purfleet on a ferry in the early hours of 23 October last year. Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.

39 counts of manslaughter

An inquest heard that their medical cause of death was asphyxia and hyperthermia – a lack of oxygen and overheating – in an enclosed space.

Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland, is alleged to have driven the lorry trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it sailed to Purfleet in England. Harrison, who was extradited from the Republic of Ireland, is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Bodies found in lorry container
The container lorry where 39 people were found dead in Grays, Essex (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Irish haulier Ronan Hughes, 40, Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, was also extradited on the same charges. It is alleged he played a leading role in the operation, with his trailers and drivers used to transport people.

They are expected to appear at the Old Bailey along with Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Langdon Hills, Basildon, Essex, who is also alleged to have been a key player. Nica has previously denied 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

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Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham; Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland; and Gazmir Nuzi, 42, Barclay Road, Tottenham, north London, have denied being part of a people-smuggling operation, which it is alleged made two previous successful runs from the continent.

An eight-week trial has been fixed to start at the Old Bailey on 5 October.

Robinson

On 8 April, lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, who discovered the bodies after transporting the container from Purfleet to an alleged pick-up point in Grays, Essex, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019 and acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

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