Two guilty of manslaughter over 39 deaths in lorry container

The 39 victims were found dead in a lorry trailer in Essex, England in October 2019. Credit: PA

Co Down lorry driver Eamonn Harrison and another man – Gheorghe Nica – have been found guilty at the Old Bailey of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese people in a lorry trailer in Essex.

The victims, including children, suffocated in October last year as they were smuggled into Britain by a people-smuggling ring.

The jury deliberated for nearly 23 hours before convicting 43-year-old ringleader Nica, from Basildon, and 24-year-old Harrison of manslaughter.

They also convicted them of their part in the wider people-smuggling operation, along with two other men – 24-year-old Co Armagh man Christopher Kennedy, and 38-year-old Valentin Calota from Birmingham.

The victims, all aged between 15 and 44, were found dead in the back of a lorry trailer on 23 October 2019, having been shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.

Members of the million-pound smuggling operation could be facing life behind bars.

Monday’s verdicts mean eight people have now been convicted in the UK – including 26-year-old Craigavon lorry driver Maurice Robinson and 41-year-old Armagh haulier boss Ronan Hughes.

Prosecutors are considering charges against a further three people.

The maximum sentence for people-smuggling is 14 years in prison with manslaughter carrying a possible life sentence.

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."

The bodies of eight women and 31 men were discovered in a refrigerated trailer in Grays. Credit: PA

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.

The network, led by Nica and and Hughes, had been operating for at least 18 months, despite repeatedly coming to the attention of authorities.

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;

  • Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26.

There are 39 graves in Vietnam for victims, but only two are buried together.

Nguyen Thi Van and Tran Hai Loc were the only couple inside the trailer, and when they were found they were still holding hands.

ITV News has been in contact with their family in the Nghe An province of Vietnam since the deaths were confirmed last year.

Now, Van’s family has spoken for the first time about losing both their daughter and their son-in-law.

The tragic couple were found hand-in-hand in the lorry trailer in Essex. Credit: Family photo

"We didn’t know they were found hand-in-hand until now," Van’s brother, Nguyen Xuan Thuy, said.

"They loved each other very much. Anything they did, anywhere they went, they were always together.

"Now I know that even when they died, and before they left this world, they were still together.”

The couple had two children who are still in Vietnam.

They were told their parents were leaving to set up a new home for the family overseas, but they would be going to join their mum and dad in the UK once it was safe.