United Kingdom

Vietnamese migrants among 39 found dead in Essex lorry caught trying to cross earlier, court hears

At least two Vietnamese migrants who were among the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex were caught trying to make a crossing in a different truck at the Eurotunnel days earlier, the Old Bailey has heard.

The migrants were spotted after an ‘orchestrated check’ by French officials on a lorry at Coquelles near Calais on October 14.

The court heard how, nine days later, two of them were among the 39 migrants found dead in a sealed trailer in Essex on October 23.

Prosecutors have claimed the previously foiled cross-Channel run could have led to people smugglers doubling up the number of humans on the October 23 journey. 

Police and forensic officers pictured at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate in October last year

A sketch of Christopher Kennedy, left, and Valentin Calota, right, at the Old Bailey. Kennedy is not accused of being involved in the transportation of migrants on October 23

Jurors heard how investigators had used GPS and mobile phone data to retrace the movements of haulier Christopher Kennedy in the hours before the discovery of 20 foreign nationals in his lorry at Coquelles near Calais. 

Earlier that day, Kennedy, located in northern France, had received nine texts coinciding with the time messages were sent by haulier boss Ronan Hughes in the Republic of Ireland, jurors heard.

At 11.50pm, Kennedy was stopped by officers at the mouth of the Eurotunnel at Coquelles and the 20 Vietnamese nationals were found in the back of his trailer, the court heard.

After the migrants were intercepted by French authorities, Kennedy continued on his way to Kent. 

At least two of the Vietnamese migrants were found among those dead in the lorry in Essex on October 23 with letters about the Coquelle stop being found on them, as the court has previously heard. 

Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay read a statement by French officer Maxime Saison, who was on duty in Coquelles that night.

Jurors have heard that four others admitted a role in the people-smuggling ring, including lorry driver Maurice Robinson (above) and Ronan Hughes, who discovered the bodies

The 39 people who were found dead on the lorry in Essex were from five provinces in the central, coastal area of Vietnam and two provinces near Hanoi

The officer said he was 'advised by our local management of an orchestrated check testing positive on a heavy goods vehicle based at the Boulevard des Flandres at Coquelles on the fixed cross-Channel link at Coquelles which gave officers to believe there were individuals inside the trailer.

'These officers took us to see 20 people found hidden in the Bulgarian heavy goods vehicle ... driven by Christopher Kennedy.' 

Mr Saison said the lorry heading towards Great Britain made its last stop at Transmarck. 

The migrants did not speak French but made it known that they were foreign nationals, he said. 

Speaking in English, they confirmed they were Vietnamese nationals and had no documentation with them, according to the officer.

Police officers and a forensic tent at the industrial estate in Essex last year. Alleged key organiser Gheorghe Nica has admitted the conspiracy but denies 39 counts of manslaughter

Mr Saison said the migrants were frisked and taken away without restraint.

Kennedy is not accused of being involved in the transportation of migrants on the tragic October 23 journey from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex.

The 24-year-old of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, denies being part of a people-smuggling conspiracy with fellow haulier Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Mayobridge, Co Down, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham.

Alleged key organiser Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, has admitted the conspiracy but denies 39 counts of manslaughter with Harrison.

Jurors have heard that four others have admitted a role in the people-smuggling ring, including haulier Hughes and another lorry driver Maurice Robinson, who discovered the bodies.

The trial continues. 

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