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Irish trucker admits role in deaths of 39 migrants

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Ronan Hughes, from Armagh

Ronan Hughes, from Armagh

PA

Ronan Hughes, from Armagh

A haulier has pleaded guilty to his part in the deaths of 39 migrants in a trailer on the back of a lorry.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were found on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after the lorry arrived in Purfleet on a ferry in the early hours of last October 23.

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

An inquest heard their medical cause of death was asphyxia and hyperthermia - a lack of oxygen and overheating - in an enclosed space.

Ronan Hughes (40), from Co Armagh, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in London yesterday to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between May 1, 2018 and October 24 last year.

It was alleged he played a leading role in the operation, with his trailers and drivers used to transport migrants.

Extradited

Hughes appeared in the dock alongside Eamonn Harrison (23), of Mayobridge, Co Down, who is alleged to have driven the lorry trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it sailed on the ferry to England.

Mr Harrison pleaded not guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

He and Hughes appeared in court after being extradited from Ireland last month.

On April 8, lorry driver Maurice Robinson (25), of Craigavon, Co Armagh, who found the bodies after transporting the container from Purfleet to Grays, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-EU citizens between May 1, 2018 and October 24 last year and acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

In June, Romanian Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga (28), of Essex, admitted one count of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration between May 2018 and last October.

During the hearing yesterday, Gazmir Nuzi (42), of London, appeared by video link and pleaded guilty to a single charge of assisting unlawful immigration on or before October 11 last year and last April 18.

Mr Harrison faces trial in October with three others.

Gheorghe Nica (43), of Essex, has denied 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Valentin Calota (37), of Birmingham, and Christopher Kennedy (23), of Co Armagh, have denied being part of a people-smuggling conspiracy.