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Northern Ireland trucker Eamon Harrison faces extradition from Republic over Essex lorry deaths

Arrest: Eamon Harrison
Arrest: Eamon Harrison

By Andrew Phelan

A truck driver from Northern Ireland is facing manslaughter and human trafficking conspiracy charges over the deaths of 39 migrants in a lorry container in England, a court has heard.

Eamon Harrison (23), of Newry in Co Down, was arrested on foot of a European Arrest Warrant yesterday and brought before Dublin High Court, where the Irish authorities are seeking to have him surrendered for extradition to the UK.

The court heard British authorities want his extradition for prosecution on 39 counts of manslaughter, one charge of conspiracy to commit human trafficking and another of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

The 41 allegations relate to the deaths of eight women and 31 men who were found dead in a container lorry in an industrial park in Essex earlier this month.

Mr Justice Donald Binchy adjourned the case for an extradition hearing later this month.

Yesterday morning, Mr Harrison remained in custody when he appeared before the High Court in Dublin.

Det Sgt Jim Kirwan, of the Garda Extradition Unit, gave evidence that he executed a European Arrest Warrant in the holding cells of the Criminal Courts of Justice at 10.15am yesterday.

He cautioned Mr Harrison, informed him of his rights and handed him a copy of the warrant. Mr Harrison confirmed that he was the person named in the warrant, Det Sgt Kirwan said.

He told the court the case against Mr Harrison related to the trafficking and subsequent deaths of 39 people within an articulated trailer unit.

At 1.38am on October 23, Essex Police received a call from the East of England Ambulance Service stating that they were getting reports of 25 illegal immigrants not breathing within a lorry in the area of the Eastern Avenue, Waterglade Industrial Estate, West Thurrock.

Police attended the scene.

The driver of the lorry was standing at the back of the trailer. He was later identified as Maurice Robinson.

Inside the trailer was a total of 39 people; eight females and 31 males who were all deceased, Det Sgt Kirwan continued.

Inquiries revealed that the trailer unit had been delivered by a lorry to Zeebrugge in Belgium before being transported to the UK, where it was collected by Maurice Robinson from the port of Purfleet, Essex.

Mr Harrison was identified as the driver of the lorry which was used to deliver a trailer unit to the port of Zeebrugge, the court heard.

CCTV taken several hours before at a truck stop in Veurne in Belgium showed Mr Harrison to be the driver of the lorry that deposited the trailer unit at Zeebrugge for onward transmission to Purfleet, Essex, Det Sgt Kirwan said.

A shipping notice provided at Zeebrugge when the tractor unit arrived at the gate was signed in the name 'Eamonn Harrison', the court heard.

Mr Harrison travelled back to Ireland in the lorry via a ferry from Cherbourg in France.

The respondent's barrister, Tony McGillicuddy, said that it was a warrant where Mr Harrison was sought for prosecution purposes.

He had "domestic matters" before Cloverhill District Court next Thursday, Mr McGillicuddy said. He had only been able to take limited instructions and asked for extended time to prepare for the extradition hearing, citing the potential complexities of the case.

Judge Binchy said it was a normal application for surrender and set down a hearing date of November 21. He said Mr McGillicuddy could renew his application on a mention date of November 11.

"He is clearly facing serious charges in another jurisdiction but they are not being run here," Judge Binchy said.

Remanding Mr Harrison in custody, he advised him that he had the right to voluntarily surrender himself to the UK authorities at any time between now and the hearing.

Mr Harrison, wearing a grey polo shirt and black-rimmed glasses, sat watching proceedings from the side of the court and was not required to speak.

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