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Essex lorry deaths families left to mourn loved ones who hoped for a better life in UK

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Cousins Nguyen Van Hung (left) and Hoang Van Tiep are laid to rest

Cousins Nguyen Van Hung (left) and Hoang Van Tiep are laid to rest

Victim Pham Tra My

Victim Pham Tra My

Cousins Nguyen Van Hung (left) and Hoang Van Tiep are laid to rest

For 39 Vietnamese migrants the hope of a better life in the UK ended in tragedy and a grim discovery in an Essex shipyard last October.

Yesterday, almost six months on, a Northern Ireland man pleaded guilty to 39 charges of manslaughter after they were discovered dead in the back of a refrigerated lorry.

Maurice Robinson (25), of Laurel Drive in the Co Armagh village of Laurelvale, just outside Portadown, was arrested at the scene after he made the discovery at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex.

The 31 men and eight women, aged between 15 and 44, paid human traffickers to smuggle them to England.

For the families of those who died, the agony goes on.

Last November, a small village in Vietnam was in mourning as two of its sons, who were among those who died, were laid to rest.

Coffins with the bodies of cousins Nguyen Van Hung (33) and Hoang Van Tiep (18) were carried to a church in the village of Dien Thinh for a funeral attended by about 300 people.

"Nguyen Van Hung and Hoang Van Tiep left their home town to find a better future for themselves and for their families," said Rev Pham Tri Phuong.

"But the tragedy happened that brought grave pain to the family and for all of us."

The two cousins were buried side by side.

Police stated at the time that Robinson drove the cab of the lorry to the port of Purfleet, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Another victim, Pham Tra My (26), had not been in contact with her family since sending a final text message home on October 22 - the day before the lorry was found by police - saying she could not breathe.

Relatives of Ms Pham Tra My told the BBC they had not been able to contact her since.

"I am really, really sorry, mum and dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed," she wrote.

"I am dying, I can't breathe.

"I love you very much mum and dad.

"I am sorry, mother."

Ms Pham Tra My is reported to have paid about £30,000 to human traffickers to bring her into the UK illegally.

Bui Thi Nhung (19) was also discovered among the dead.

Her brother, Bui Thi Ding, told ITV News: "Nhung would have done any job she could over there. We are so poor here, we barely have enough food to eat, and our father has died. She wanted to go to England to help our elderly mother."

Her mother and sister set up an altar in their village of Yen Thanh in north-central Vietnam after a family friend in the UK told them she had died after paying thousands of pounds in the hope of finding work in a nail bar.

Vigils for the victims were held in Belfast and London at the time of the discovery as the wider issue of human trafficking and the journeys people make to get to the UK was put under the spotlight.

At 1.13am on the night of the discovery of the bodies, a CCTV camera outside the Big Blue Squirrel Self Storage unit captured the lorry braking as it moved along Motherwell Way.

Sana Mirza, the firm's store manager, said at the time: "As it goes past our camera, the brake lights go on, as if he's seen a turn-off into a yard.

"But perhaps he's gone past the lorry yard next to us, knowing he can't make the turn or it was full, and turned at the next left."

She continued: "My God, I feel for those people inside, dying like that, and their families at home. It's so awful.

"And for the ambulance people to have to go into that lorry and see that sight. Terrible, absolutely terrible."

Belfast Telegraph