Essex lorry deaths: Two men found guilty of manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

Two men have been found guilty of killing 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found dead in a lorry container in Essex last year.

Gheorghe Nica, 43, and Eamonn Harrison, 24, have been found guilty at the Old Bailey of the manslaughter of 39 men, women and children who suffocated as they were smuggled into Britain in a lorry trailer.

The jury, which deliberated for nearly 23 hours, also convicted them of their part in a wider people-smuggling operation with Christopher Kennedy, 24, and Valentin Calota, 38.

The Vietnamese migrants, aged between 15 and 44, were found dead in the back of a trailer in Essex on October 23 last year.

They had suffocated in sweltering temperatures of up to 38.5C as the airtight container was shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet, the Old Bailey heard.

Listen to the 999 call and how police responded when approaching the lorry in 2019

The 31 men and eight women are believed to have paid people traffickers for their transit to England.

The "unscrupulous" gang behind the illegal shipment were motivated by greed as they pursued profits of more than £1 million that month alone.

Romanian ringleader Nica from Basildon, in Essex, and lorry driver Harrison from County Down, had denied 39 counts of manslaughter.

Nica had admitted a limited role but denied involvement in the fatal run.

They were also convicted of their part in the people-smuggling operation with lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham.

The verdicts bring the total number of people convicted in Britain to eight, including haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson, of Craigavon, who admitted manslaughter.

ITV News Reporter Chloe Keedy reveals what the conditions are like inside a lorry container

Mr Justice Sweeney sent jurors out to consider verdicts last Friday following the 10-week trial.

Giving evidence in his trial, father-of-three Nica said he had been staying with friends while waiting for British passports to arrive after his wife and children travelled ahead to Romania in September last year.

The family had been in the process of emigrating to get treatment for Nica’s disabled daughter, the court has heard.

On October 4 last year, Nica said another acquaintance, Marius Draghici, had asked him if he could use his friends’ yard in Orsett to park a lorry.

39 bodies of Vietnamese migrants were found inside a lorry trailer in Essex in October 2019. Credit: PA

Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, of Essex Police, said the gang were "greedy" but "complacent".

He said: "You would not transport animals in that way but they were quite happy to do that and put them at significant risk."

Since the tragedy, Essex Police had been at the forefront of cracking down on organised immigration crime, Mr Stoten said.

The lorry was found in a container in Purfleet, Essex Credit: PA

Kelly Matthews, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Thirty-nine vulnerable people desperate for a new life put their trust in an unscrupulous network of people smugglers.

"Nothing can bring back the lives lost on that day or the loss caused by the horrible, unlawful and dangerous actions of these defendants.

"But we hope these convictions bring some measure of solace to the families in the knowledge that justice has been done."

The Old Bailey heard how the gang offered a "VIP" service to Vietnamese migrants, who gathered in Belgium and France.

They charged about £13,000 a head to transport migrants in a trailer via the Channel Tunnel or by boat to Essex.

'My journey abroad hasn't succeeded...I'm dying because I can't breath'

The victims were: Dinh Dinh Binh, 15, Nguyen Minh Quang, 20, Nguyen Huy Phong, 35, Le Van Ha, 30, Nguyen Van Hiep, 24, Bui Phan Thang, 37, Nguyen Van Hung, 33, Nguyen Huy Hung, 15, Nguyen Tien Dung, 33, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, Tran Khanh Tho, 18, Nguyen Van Nhan, 33, Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, Vo Van Linh, 25, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, 34, Vo Nhan Du, 19.

Tran Hai Loc, 35, Tran Manh Hung, 37, Nguyen Thi Van, 35, Bui Thi Nhung, 19, Hoang Van Tiep, 18, Tran Thi Ngoc, 19, Phan Thi Thanh, 41, Tran Thi Tho, 21, Duong Minh Tuan, 27, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, 28, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, 18, Le Trong Thanh, 44, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, 32, Hoang Van Hoi, 24, Tran Ngoc Hieu, 17, Cao Tien Dung, 37, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, 18, Dong Huu Tuyen, 22, Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, Cao Huy Thanh, 37, Nguyen Trong Thai, 26, Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, and Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26.