Maurice Robinson, the lorry driver accused of manslaughter of 39 people found dead inside his lorry trailer on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday, is allegedly part of a “global ring” of people smugglers, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Robinson, from Craigavon, was remanded in custody at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court. Appearing via video-link, he is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.
Prosecutor Ogheneruona Iguyovwe described the conspiracy charges as “a global ring” involving “the movement of a large number of illegal immigrants into the UK”.
Mr Robinson was not asked to indicate pleas and will next appear at the Old Bailey on 25 November.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the world had been “shocked by this tragedy”. He was joined at Thurrock Council’s offices by Home Secretary Priti Patel and members of the emergency services. They also paid their respects to the victims by laying flowers in the nearby Mulberry garden.
Writing in the book of condolence, Mr Johnson said: “The whole nation, and indeed the world had been shocked by this tragedy and the cruelty of the fate that has been suffered by innocent people who were hoping for a better life in this country.
“In condemning the callousness of those responsible for this crime, we in the government of the United Kingdom resolve to do everything in our power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Ms Patel later told the House of Commons there would be an “increased presence” of Border Force officers at Purfleet, the Essex port where the container arrived.
She also said an agreement had been reached with Belgian authorities to send additional immigration officers to Zeebrugge.
Three other people arrested in connection with the deaths were released on bail on Sunday. Detectives in Essex are now working on the largest mass fatality victim identification process in the force’s history.
Initially, police said the 31 men and eight women were Chinese but a number of Vietnamese families have described how they fear their loved ones are among the dead.
Some of the victims are said to have paid thousands of pounds to guarantee their safe passage to the UK, from where they would be able to carry out work that would give them money to send home.
Reuters reports that the UK government has sent documents to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security in a bid to identify four of the 39 victims.
Families in the country have shared their fears their loved ones could have been among those who died. (Source: BBC)