Maurice Robinson, the truck driver accused in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants whose bodies were found inside a refrigerated container that had been hauled to an industrial estate in Essex east of London, pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday.
Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, entered the plea at Central London Criminal Court. Robinson appeared in court via video link alongside four co-defendants.
A second man who was also charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, British-Romanian dual national Gheorghe Nica, 43, pleaded not guilty.
Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Christopher Kennedy, 23, of County Armagh, Northern Ireland, previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.
The bodies of the 39 people were found in the container at the back of the truck on Oct. 23. Police investigating the case found the 31 male and eight female victims were all from Vietnam and ranged in age from 15 to 44, including 10 teenagers.
Most were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, where poor job prospects, environmental disasters and the promise of financial reward fuel migration.
Robinson, 25, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in November to charges of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring cash which he knew or suspected came from criminal conduct.
Several others have been arrested and charged in both Vietnam and the United Kingdom, and other legal proceedings are ongoing.
Autopsies concluded that the provisional cause of death of the 39 Vietnamese people was a combination of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, and hyperthermia, or overheating, in an enclosed space.
The trial will begin on Monday Oct. 5. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)