Great Britain

Essex lorry deaths: driver pleads guilty to manslaughter of 39 migrants

A lorry driver has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 39 people who were found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered by emergency services at an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after the lorry arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium in the early hours of 23 October last year.

Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys. Five men charged following an investigation by Essex Police appeared for a virtual hearing at the Old Bailey before Mr Justice Sweeney.

Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property.
During the hearing on Wednesday, the truck driver also admitted 39 counts of manslaughter on or before October 24 last year.

He denied a further charge of transferring criminal property. Robinson appeared at court via video link alongside four other co-defendants.

Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Langdon Hills, denied 39 counts of manslaughter. He also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019. Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, of Tilbury, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Darkley, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, has previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
Valentin Calota, 37, from Birmingham, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Prosecutor William Emlyn Jones QC said a human trafficking conspiracy charge was being dropped in relation to Kennedy and Robinson. He asked for three weeks to decide whether to proceed with a trial against Robinson on the outstanding charge he faced.

The other defendants face a trial at the Old Bailey lasting up to eight weeks from 5 October.

The hearing was conducted virtually with most lawyers and court reporters attending by Skype.

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