A UK court has found two men guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found dead in the refrigerated container of a truck in Essex, England in October 2019.
Eamonn Harrison, 24, who dropped off the trailer at the Belgian port, and people-smuggler Gheorghe Nica, 43, were convicted by an Old Bailey jury.
Northern Irish lorry driver, Christopher Kennedy, 24, and Valentin Calota, 38, a pickup driver from Romania, have been convicted earlier of conspiring to smuggle people into the country unlawfully.
Kennedy, from County Armagh, collected the trailers from Purfleet on the earlier two runs, claiming he thought he was transporting cigarettes.
The trial examined three smuggling attempts by the gang – two that were successful on 11 and 18 October, and the final trip on October 23.
During the trial, jurors were given a snapshot of the victims – who included a bricklayer, a university graduate and a nailbar technician – and their dreams of a better life.
Many of their families borrowed heavily to fund their passage, relying on their potential future earnings once they got into the UK.
Det. Ch. Insp. Daniel Stoten, from Essex Police, said: “If you look at the method, the way they transported human beings… we wouldn’t transport animals in that way.”
Another two men – Irish haulage boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Tyholland, County Monaghan, Ireland, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson – had previously admitted manslaughter.
Prosecutors said in the fatal run, the container became a “tomb” as temperatures in the unit reached an “unbearable” 38.5C (101F).
The migrants, aged 15 to 44, were sealed inside for at least 12 hours and tried to use a metal pole to try to punch through the roof in order to get air, but only managed to dent the interior.
Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones said: “There was no way out, and no-one to hear them; no-one to help them.”
Harrison, of Newry, County Down, towed the trailer to Zeebrugge, from where it was transported to Purfleet.
During the 10-week trial, he claimed he did not know there were people in the trailer and that he watched “a wee bit of Netflix” in bed as they were loaded on.
He also said he had no idea there were migrants in two other trailers that he had dropped off at the same port in the previous 12 days.
Robinson, from County Armagh, collected the trailer when it arrived on UK shores just after midnight on October 23.
His boss, Hughes, had messaged him: “Give them air quickly don’t let them out”. Robinson gave a thumbs-up in reply.
But when Robinson stopped on a nearby industrial estate, he found that the migrants were all dead. (Source: BBC)