Essex lorry deaths accused Mo Robinson was ‘part of global ring', court hears
Northern Ireland trucker Mo Robinson was accused of being part of "a global ring" when he appeared in court over the alleged manslaughter of 39 migrants who were found dead in a trailer in Essex.
At the brief court appearance in Chelmsford Magistrates Court, prosecutor Ogheneruona Iguyovwe described the conspiracy charges as “a global ring” involving “the movement of a large number of illegal immigrants into the UK”.
Maurice 'Mo' Robinson, from Laurelvale, outside Portadown, Co Armagh, appeared via video link charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.
He was dressed in a grey prison tracksuit and spoke only to give his name, his address and his nationality as British.
He was not asked to indicate a plea and will next appear at the Old Bailey on November 25 for a plea and trial preparation hearing. His solicitor Julian Hayes made no application for bail.
District Judge Timothy King remanded him into custody, saying: “You have heard the nature of the allegations you face and the majority of these can only be dealt with in the crown court.
“I therefore allocate all matters to the Central Criminal Court on November 25 and you will be required to enter your pleas on that occasion.”
The 25-year-old was arrested in the early hours of October 23 after police found the bodies of eight women and 31 men in a refrigerated trailer of a lorry on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex.
In total five people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, the largest of its kind undertaken by Essex Police.
Another man wanted in connection with the investigation was arrested at Dublin port on Saturday. Gardai said the man, who is in his early 20s and from Northern Ireland, was held over an unrelated outstanding court order.
He is understood to be sought by Essex Police as part of their probe, and the force confirmed officers are in touch with Irish police.
Three other people arrested over the deaths have been released on bail.
A 48-year-old man, from Northern Ireland, was detained at Stansted Airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter.
Officers had earlier arrested a couple, both 38, in Warrington.
The pair, originally from the Republic of Ireland, were held on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.
Separately, it's been revealed that the Criminal Assets Bureau has been secretly investigating the finances of a cross-border gang suspected of organising the human trafficking operation that led to the deaths of the 39 migrants.
The CAB launched the probe last year after receiving intelligence that the criminal group was amassing significant wealth from various types of smuggling, including people smuggling.
The bureau has been profiling the crime group's significant assets, which are thought to include legitimate businesses and properties, according to informed sources.
In Belgium, police are hunting the driver who delivered the trailer to Zeebrugge, the port it left before arriving in the UK.
All of the victims have now been moved from the truck in Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.
Essex Police initially believed they were all Chinese nationals, but it is now thought up to 25 of the 39 victims were from Vietnam, with many families from the country contacting authorities to report their loved ones missing.
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore said 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”.
He said there were “very, very few” identity documents recovered and that police will share fingerprints with Vietnamese authorities in a bid to identify the bodies.
Elsewhere, in Vietnam, families waited to find out if their loved ones were among the dead.
The father of one young woman feared to have died said her family tried to talk her out of the journey.
Opening up about his heartache, the father of Pham Thi Tra My (26) said the family had not been able to make contact with her since she sent a heartbreaking text message on Tuesday night saying she could not breathe.
Speaking to Sky News, Pham Van Thin told of his daughter's determination to make the journey.
He said: "We tried to talk her out of it because it would be a very difficult journey for her as a girl. But she said: 'If I don't go, the family would stay in a very difficult situation because of the big debt'. So she took a risk and decided to go, and we had to agree."
He added: "We all have been in shock. I cannot explain our pain and devastating feeling. We were all very devastated and sad."
In a heartbreaking message, the 26-year-old told her parents: "I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed. I am dying, I can't breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother."
Mr Pham also told CNN that smugglers said the crossing was "a safe route" and that people would go by plane or car.
"If I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go," he added.
Some of the suspected victims, including Mr Pham's daughter, are understood to have paid as much as £30,000 to people smugglers in return for taking them from Asia to the UK.