Belfast Telegraph

Essex deaths: Lorry driver Mo Robinson charged with manslaughter of 39 people

Down man appears in Dublin court after arrest at port

Lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter after the bodies of 31 men and eight women were found in a trailer.

The 25-year-old, of Laurel Drive, Craigavon was arrested on Wednesday after the the discovery in Essex.

Mr Robinson is also charged with conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.

He is due to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court on Monday.

On Saturday morning Gardai arrested 23-year-old Eamon Harrison at Dublin Port. A Gardai spokesperson said that Essex Police wanted to speak to him as part of their investigation.

It is understood detectives want to speak to him in connection with the movements of the container.

Mr Harrison from Mayobridge, Co Down appeared at Dublin District Court on Saturday for assault and criminal damage.

The 23-year-old was arrested after arriving in Ireland on a ferry from France.

The court heard he is a lorry driver and had spent the last three days in France before organising a "special route" to return to Ireland.

Detective Patrick Flood from the Garda National Immigration Bureau told the court that Mr Harrison was involved in the smuggling of beer in the UK and had failed to appear before a German court in recent months.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Harrison's solicitor said that the offence in Germany was a road traffic accident and that he had planned to make himself available to gardai to assist with an investigation in Northern Ireland.

He was refused bail and remanded in custody until October 30.

Three other people are currently in police custody helping them with their enquiries into the deaths.

A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.

A couple named locally as haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both aged 38 and originally from the Republic of Ireland, were arrested at their home in Warrington, Cheshire, on Friday on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.

The bodies were discovered in the refrigerated trailer in Grays, Essex, in the early hours of Wednesday.

Essex Police has said they are investigating lines of inquiry to "establish whether there is a wider conspiracy involved".

Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore told a press conference at Grays police station on Saturday that all of the victims had been recovered from the trailer and were now at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

He declined to comment on reports the lorry was part of a convoy of three carrying around 100 people.

"No you're homing straight on to an investigative question. My role is to identify the deceased," Detective Chief Inspector Pasmore said.

"What I will say is I know the senior investigating officer remains open minded. There are lines of inquiry that are set of course to establish whether or not there are wider conspiracies involved in this and the lines of inquiry are set to identify the wider conspiracy but I can say no more than that."

Detective Chief Inspector Pasmore said he could not rule out similar incidents in the future.

A convoy of funeral directors’ vehicles enter the Port of Tilbury to collect the bodies of the 39 people (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
A convoy of funeral directors’ vehicles enter the Port of Tilbury to collect the bodies of the 39 people (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

"I think we've got to be realistic - we know and you are reporting frequently on the fact - that we have people coming into the country either being trafficked or as asylum seekers and we know that the borders are very tight and complicated," he said.

"And there are more and more chances being taken.

"We know this is going on - am I majorly concerned that we're going to have the same thing happen tomorrow and the next day? You can't say can you because it must be clear that criminals, murderers are taking more and more chances with these vulnerable people and the risk is massive.

"So am I concerned? Yes I'm concerned. Will it happen again? I really hope not but it could well do."

Families in Vietnam have expressed their fears that their relatives may be among the dead.

Detective Chief Inspector Pasmore said that the nationality of the victims is not yet known, but the focus is now on the Vietnamese community - although "there may be other nationalities involved".

Floral tributes left on Eastern Avenue, Grays (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Floral tributes left on Eastern Avenue, Grays (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The officer said he had met with the Vietnamese ambassador Tran Ngoc An in Essex and will share fingerprints in a bid to identify the dead.

Police had initially said that they believed the victims in the lorry to be Chinese nationals.

Vietnamese community website Viethome is working with police to help identify if people reported missing are among the dead. 

If the fridge on the hermetically sealed trailer was not running there would be no air coming in, suffocating people inside, according to Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.

Belgian officials said the trailer arrived at Zeebrugge at 2.49pm on Tuesday and left the port the same day en route to Purfleet.

The trailer arrived at Purfleet at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and was picked up by the cab, known as the tractor, which arrived from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.

The lorry left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am before police were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays at 1.40am.

Additional reporting by PA

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