A lorry driver and another man have been convicted of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants who died of suffocation and heat exhaustion while being smuggled into Britain in October 2019.
Eamonn Harrison, 23, from Mayobridge in Northern Ireland, drove the lorry trailer containing the migrants to Zeebrugge, where it was offloaded and sent on a ship to the Essex port of Purfleet.
Harrison’s boss, haulage company owner Ronan Hughes, and Maurice Robinson, the trucker who picked the trailer up at Purfleet and drove it a short distance to the lorry park in West Thurrock, have already admitted manslaughter and will be sentenced on 11 January.
Harrison denied he knew the migrants were inside the trailer unit when he delivered it to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge the previous night and Gheorge Nica, 43, denied he was waiting at a lorry park in Orsett, Essex, for the migrants, whose families had each paid £13,000 for the “VIP” package.
Harrison and Nica were convicted of manslaughter on Monday, 21 December.
Two other men - trucker Christopher Kennedy, 24, and Romanian national Valentin Calota, 37, were convicted of being part of a people trafficking conspiracy.
The lorry park at Collingwood Farm was the nerve centre of the people trafficking operation and migrants had been unloaded from trucks there on previous occasions and then taken away in vans and cars.
The sister of one of the victims, Dang Huu Tuyen, 22, said he was a "gentle, loving and dedicated Catholic."
The parents of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, one of the youngest people in the truck, said their son loved football and was "peaceful and smart."
The migrants climbed into the trailer at a lorry park in La Chappelle d’Armentieres, close to the French border with Belgium.
Jurors in the Essex lorry deaths trial had to be issued a warning by the judge to ignore commentary from 'politicians and pundits' after Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted in the middle of the trial that the tragedy had been caused by 'ruthless criminals.'— CourtNewsUK (@CourtNewsUK) December 21, 2020
Hughes, who was extradited from the Republic of Ireland, was described as being the "ringleader of a people smuggling ring" and he had the perfect cover - he ran a legitimate haulage firm who transported everything from wine to macaroons between France, Belgium and England.
The Chief Constable of Essex, Ben-Julian Harrington, said: "The men who were found guilty today made their money from misery. They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they didn’t care.
"They tried to hide what they were doing. They attempted to evade detection. They thought they could cover up their crimes. Today, they have been proved wrong on every count."
The trial highlighted the ease with with migrants can enter Britain with the connivance, in this case, of truckers and unscrupulous haulage company owners.
Hughes employed a number of drivers who were willing to turn a blind eye for a cut of the profits and he liaised with a Romanian group who had managed to secure a steady stream of fee-paying migrants from Vietnam.
One of the Romanians, Nica, admitted taking part in two previous smuggling incidents - on 11 October 2019 when eight migrants were brought in and on 18 October when 15 migrants came over - but denied being involved in the fatal trip on the night of 22/23 October.
Nica’s lawyer, Aftab Jafferjee QC, claimed the real ringleaders of the people trafficking gang were two men who had "evaded apprehension" - Marius Draghici and another man who was not named.