A lawyer for one of two men accused of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants in the back of a truck has told a jury his client was a "gopher" rather than an "organiser."
Gheorge Nica, 43, and Eamonn Harrison, 23, deny manslaughter while Valentin Calota, 37, and Christopher Kennedy, 24, deny being part of a people trafficking conspiracy.
Last week Mr Nica admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019 but his barrister, Aftab Jafferjee QC, told the Old Bailey his client had only played a minor role.
Back at the Old Bailey today for the start of the prosecution witnesses in the case involving the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals found in the back of a lorry in Essex last October (FYI - tweets will be slightly more sporadic today) pic.twitter.com/quZEPKVXbE— Jordan Milne (@JEMilneSky) October 12, 2020
Mr Jafferjee said Mr Nica’s family had returned to his native Romania in July 2019 and he said: “Why was he in this country at all? He was just waiting for his family’s British passports to arrive.”
Mr Nica has 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 has denied being involved in the fatal trip on the night of 22/23 October.
Mr Jafferjee said the deaths of 31 men and eight women whose bodies were found inside the truck trailer on an industrial estate east of London was an “appalling loss of lives” and he said the prosecution claimed it was as a result of “greedy exploitation”.
But he said the real ringleaders were two men - Marius Draghici and another man - who had so far “evaded apprehension”.
Mr Jafferjee asked the jury to consider “who was controlling who in this cabal” and “who controlled the money”.
'I don't know how to go on,' one father told AFP. 'I miss him so much.' @tranminhha reports from central Vietnam one year after the tragic death of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a truck in Britain https://t.co/GyZXieAEAJ— Alice Philipson (@AlicePhilipson1) October 12, 2020
He said the people trafficking conspiracy was centred around a lorry park at Collingwood Farm near Orsett in Essex, a place that was at the heart of “a range of lucrative activity”, much of it illegal.
Harrison, from Mayobridge in Northern Ireland, is accused of having driven the lorry trailer containing the migrants to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, where it was offloaded and sent on a ship to the Essex port of Purfleet.
Maurice Robinson, the trucker who picked the trailer up at Purfleet and drove it a short distance to the lorry park in West Thurrock, has already admitted manslaughter.
But in a brief statement to the jury, Alisdair Williamson QC, said his client, Harrison, was not guilty of manslaughter.
Mr Williamson said he would ask the jury to pay particular attention to who was in the cab of the lorry with Harrison and he asked them to consider: “What role did this person play?”
A post-mortem examination found the victims - who included 10 teenagers - died from overheating and a lack of oxygen in the lorry trailer.
Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones QC claims the migrants were loaded onto the trailer at a lorry park in La Chappelle d’Armentieres, close to the French border with Belgium.
The trial continues.