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Essex lorry deaths: Four jailed in Vietnam for brokering illegal emigration

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The lorry container in Essex

The lorry container in Essex

The lorry container in Essex

A court in Vietnam has jailed four people over their roles in the death of 39 migrants found in a refrigerated truck in England last year.

The deaths of the 31 men and eight women from Vietnam, who were found in a vehicle in Grays, Essex, in October 2019, highlighted the enormous risks of illegal migration to Europe and sparked an international outcry.

A series of people have been arrested and charged in the UK, France and Belgium in connection with the case, including several from Northern Ireland.

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Maurice Robinson

Maurice Robinson

Maurice Robinson

The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson (25), of Laurelvale, Co Armagh, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in April this year.

Emergency services were contacted shortly after 1.30am on October 23 by a panicked Robinson who reported that there were people inside who were not breathing.

Ronan Hughes

Ronan Hughes, 40, from Tyholland, Co Monaghan, also pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month.

The deaths shocked Britain and Vietnam and shone a spotlight on the illicit global trade that sends the poor of Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.

The defendants, aged between 24 and 36, were found guilty of “organising and brokering illegal emigration”, after a one-day trial in the central province of Ha Tinh.

They were given prison sentences of between two-and-a-half years and seven-and-a-half years by a court in central Ha Tinh province on Monday.

Three others on trial were given suspended sentences.

The victims, who included two 15-year-old boys, were mostly from Ha Tinh and its neighbouring Nghe An province, where poor job prospects, encouragement by authorities, smuggling gangs and environmental issues have fuelled migration.

They were discovered last October in a container at the back of a truck on an industrial estate in Grays in Essex, about 20 miles (30 km) east of London.

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Police activity in 2019 at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Aaron Chown/PA)

Police activity in 2019 at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Aaron Chown/PA)

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Police activity in 2019 at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Aaron Chown/PA)

A police statement said the defendants arranged for Pham Thi Tra My, whose desperate text messages sent from inside the container first alerted the world to the victims’ plight, to travel illegally to France and then to Britain for $22,000.

“I honestly don’t want the defendants to face long prison sentences as I know that it was just an accident,” said Thin, Tra My’s father, who attended the trial.

“Handing them long prison terms won’t help me get back my daughter,” Thin said.

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Candles laid out at a vigil for the 39 victims (Yui Mok/PA)

Candles laid out at a vigil for the 39 victims (Yui Mok/PA)

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Candles laid out at a vigil for the 39 victims (Yui Mok/PA)

But Nguyen Dinh Gia, who lost his 20-year-old son Luong in the tragedy, said he believed the defendants should not have been given jail terms.

“The people involved were just trying to help and then the accident happened,” he said, and added that he had not known the trial was taking place.

“He was an adult who made his own decision and joined the trip voluntarily, with the aim to improve his life, earning money to alleviate our poverty.”

Mr Gia said his son had wanted to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018.

The journey to Britain, where he aimed to look for work in a nail salon, would have cost him around £11,000 (€12,000).

“It has been almost a year but whenever I think about this, it’s still painful,” Mr Gia said.

Mr Gia’s son and the majority of the other migrants came from a handful of poor central provinces, hotspots for illegal migration to Europe.

The lorry carrying the victims arrived on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge in the early hours of October 23.

They died from lack of oxygen and overheating, according to post-mortem examinations

Belfast Telegraph