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NI haulier Ronan Hughes in custody over 39 migrant Essex lorry deaths

Ronan Hughes

A Northern Ireland haulier has been remanded in custody charged with the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found dead inside a lorry container in Essex.

Ronan Hughes (40), who was extradited to the UK from the Republic of Ireland, appeared before Southend Magistrates' Court by video-link from a police station yesterday.

The defendant, who gave his address to the court as Dalton Park, Armagh, is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter between October 22 and October 24 last year.

He is also charged with one count of facilitating the illegal entry of people into the UK between May 1, 2018 and October 24, 2019.

Prosecutors say Hughes operated a road haulage business and his trailers and drivers were used to transport migrants.

They allege he played a leading role.

Hughes, who wore a blue T-shirt, blue jeans and white trainers, spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth, address and to state his nationality as Irish.

The defendant, who was flanked by two police officers wearing face masks, was not asked to enter pleas.

He remained seated throughout the 11-minute hearing.

No application for bail was made.

District Judge Timothy King remanded him in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on July 22 for a plea hearing.

During the hearing, the judge read out the names of the 39 Vietnamese nationals who died.

The High Court in Dublin ruled earlier this month that Hughes could be extradited to face charges over the deaths.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered at an industrial estate in Grays shortly after the 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.

The lorry's driver, Maurice 'Mo' Robinson (25), admitted 39 counts of manslaughter at the Old Bailey in April after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Robinson, of Laurelvale in Co Armagh, also admitted acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

Belfast Telegraph