A truck driver has gone on trial in London accused of the manslaughter of eight women and 31 men from Vietnam, whose bodies were found in an industrial park in Grays, Essex.
Eamonn Harrison, 23, from Mayobridge in Northern Ireland, is accused of having driven the refrigerated trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, from where it was shipped to the port of Purfleet, just east of London.
The refrigerated container where Vietnamese migrants died was turned off and temperatures reached 38.5 degrees as they suffocated to death— CourtNewsUK (@CourtNewsUK) October 7, 2020
A post-mortem examination found the victims - who included two boys aged just 15 - died from lack of oxygen and overheating.
Emlyn Jones QC describes for the jury the evidence of what the victims were going through: In the phone of one of the dead, 28 year old Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, a text message was found which read “maybe going to die in the container, can’t breathe any more dear”. It was marked unsent— Jordan Milne (@JEMilneSky) October 7, 2020
Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones QC said the victims had been sealed inside a refrigeration unit, which was turned off, in pitch black for almost 12 hours as the temperature rose to an "unbearable" 38.5 Celsius.
He said: "What it must have been like inside that lorry does not bear thinking about. In short, they suffocated. There were no survivors."
One of the victims, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, 28, tried to send a text message to her family: "Maybe going to die in the container, can't breathe any more, dear."
Harrison Was Fined In 2018
Mr Emlyn Jones told the Old Bailey that 19 months earlier Harrison had been stopped in Coquelles, northern France, and was found to have 18 Vietnamese nationals in the back of his truck. He was given a fine which he never paid.
A man accused over the deaths of 39 migrants found in the back of a lorry in #Essex has admitted being part of a people-smuggling plot. Gheorghe Nica, who's 43 and from #Basildon, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration but denies manslaughter. #HeartNews pic.twitter.com/XzqCgjTZWz— Heart News East (@HeartNewsEast) October 7, 2020
Gheorge Nica, 43, from Basildon in Essex, has admitted one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, but denies manslaughter.
Valentin Calota, 37, from Birmingham, and truck driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, are charged with conspiracy to smuggle migrants into Britain.
All four have pleaded not guilty.
Harrison's boss, Ronan Hughes, 41, and truck driver Maurice Robinson, 26, have already pleaded guilty to manslaughter. It was Robinson who picking up the lorry trailer in Grays, Essex just after midnight on 23 October 2019.
'Give Them Air Quickly' Text Message
Robinson stopped the truck after receiving a text message from Hughes which said: "Give them air quickly, but don't let them out."
Mr Emlyn Jones said: "What he found must haunt him still. For the 39 men and women inside, that trailer had become their tomb."
The prosecution claim Robinson rang Nica and informed him what had happened before he rang 999.
Mr Emlyn Jones said each of the migrants paid £10,000 to cross the English Channel in the back of the truck.
He said the gang had made many trips before but on this occasion "something went dreadfully wrong."
Driven To Migrate By Poverty In Vietnam
One of the defendants, Kennedy, texted a friend a few hours after the bodies were found saying: "Must have been too many and run out of air."
Most of the victims were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in central Vietnam, where poverty spurred migration.
Last month a court in Vietnam sentenced four people to up to seven years in prison for their role in the deaths.
The trial continues.