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Lorry driver admits manslaughter of 39 people found dead in refrigerated truck

Robinson appeared by video link from custody before Mr Justice Sweeney alongside four co-defendants.

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Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice Robinson (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice Robinson (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice Robinson (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

A people-smuggler has admitted killing 39 migrants who were found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered by emergency services at an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after a container arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium in the early hours of October 23 last year.

Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.

An Essex Police investigation into an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths led to charges against five men, including lorry driver Maurice Robinson.

During a virtual hearing at the Old Bailey, 25-year-old Robinson admitted 39 counts of manslaughter on or before October 24 last year.

Robinson, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019.

He admitted acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

The prosecution asked for three weeks to consider whether to go ahead with a trial on that charge.

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Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, in 2019 after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container (Aaron Chown/PA)

Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, in 2019 after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container (Aaron Chown/PA)

PA

Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, in 2019 after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container (Aaron Chown/PA)

Robinson appeared by videolink from custody before Mr Justice Sweeney alongside four co-defendants on Wednesday.

He was jointly charged with British Romanian Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Mimosa Close in Langdon Hills, who denied 39 counts of manslaughter.

Nica also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, of Hobart Road in Tilbury, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Corkley Road in Darkley, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, has previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

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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)

PA

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

The fifth defendant, Valentin Calota, 37, of Cossington Road in Birmingham, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Prosecutor William Emlyn Jones QC said a human trafficking conspiracy charge in relation to Kennedy and Robinson was being dropped by the Crown.

Robinson’s four co-defendants now face a trial at the Old Bailey, lasting up to eight weeks from October 5.

The hearing was conducted virtually with most lawyers and court reporters attending by Skype.

PA