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

The bodies of eight females and 31 males were discovered in the trailer attached to his Scania cab in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, early on October 23.

Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.

Maurice 'Mo' Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

Five men charged following an investigation by Essex Police appeared for a virtual hearing before Mr Justice Sweeney.

Robinson had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property. He denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

Robinson appeared at court via video link alongside four other co-defendants.

He also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019.

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

Candles were lit for the victims, all from Vietnam. Credit: PA

He was jointly charged with British Romanian Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Mimosa Close in Langdon Hills, who denied 39 counts of manslaughter.

Nica also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, of Hobart Road in Tilbury, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Corkley Road in Darkley, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, has previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

The fifth defendant, Valentin Calota, 37, of Cossington Road in 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 in relation to Kennedy and Robinson was being dropped by the Crown.

Robinson’s four co-defendants now face a trial at the Old Bailey, lasting up to eight weeks from October 5.