Great Britain

Essex lorry deaths: warrant to extradite driver 'was rushed'

A warrant issued in an attempt to extradite a lorry driver wanted in connection with the deaths of 39 people in Essex was rushed, a court in Ireland has heard.

Eamonn Harrison, 22, from Mayobridge in Newry, County Down, appeared on Thursday in Dublin’s central criminal court regarding a European arrest warrant to have him transferred to the UK.

The court heard Harrison was sought in respect of 41 offences, 39 counts of manslaughter, one count of a human trafficking offence and one count of assisting unlawful immigration.

Ronan Kennedy SC, representing the Irish government, said Harrison drove the lorry used to deliver a container to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and was identified as the driver of the vehicle on CCTV in Belgium.

Kennedy said Harrison signed the shipping notice for the refrigerated container, which was later found in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, on 23 October. The bodies of eight women and 31 men, all Vietnamese nationals, were found inside the trailer.

Siobhán Stack SC, defending, raised a number of issues with the warrant for extradition. She said where and when exactly her client committed his alleged offences was not listed or detailed, or the degree in which he was knowingly involved in any alleged trafficking.

Stack told the court the warrant had been rushed. She said there were a number of ambiguities in the document and that the court “could not be satisfied for making order of surrender” on the basis of the warrant in its current form.

Extraterritoriality was raised as an issue, as any alleged offences against Harrison would have happened in Belgium, she told the court, adding that this was not mentioned in the warrant.

The warrant also stated Harrison was a British citizen. However, he was travelling on an Irish passport and was an Irish citizen, Stark said. “We’re going to have to amend that, nationality is critical.”

It is understood the information received about Harrison’s citizenship in the warrant was given to police by a family member who had got it wrong.

Harrison’s passport had been seized by Gardaí in Dublin, Stark said.

She told the court: “In truth, very little factual narrative relates to Mr Harrison, all that is said is that he is alleged to be responsible for putting a unit on a lorry which travelled to UK. In relation to manslaughter charges, involving the tragic death of these people, there is no information in the warrant as to when those deaths occurred.

“There is far from sufficient information in the warrant to say that such an offence occurred, the warrant gives no information whatsoever about the unfortunate people who were found dead on arrival in UK, that information at present is missing.

“I’m struggling to find a word for how limited the allegations are against Mr Harrison.”

Kennedy conceded that there was “slight ambiguity” and some aspects of the warrant were “not entirely clear”.

Justice Binchy, presiding, has given both parties more time to seek additional information. He told the court: “This application should be decided on fullest possible information, and if there was an issue in which respondent thinks clarity is required, I would hope that’s not sprung on court at a later stage.”

A hearing is set for 12 December and is expected to last one day.

Binchy, concluding the hearings, said: “Brexit looms large over all of this, not in this application alone, but I’m doing my utmost to have all requests from the UK disposed of before the end of this term, so I’m trying to achieve it in this case also.”

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