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Truck driver admits killing 39 migrants in container tragedy

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Police at the scene in Essex where the 39 bodies were found. Photo: PA

Police at the scene in Essex where the 39 bodies were found. Photo: PA

PA

Police at the scene in Essex where the 39 bodies were found. Photo: PA

A truck driver from Northern Ireland has admitted killing 39 migrants who were found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were found by emergency services at an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after a container arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium in the early hours of October 23 last year.

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

An Essex Police investigation into an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths led to charges against five men, including lorry driver Maurice Robinson.

Virtual

During a virtual hearing at the Old Bailey, 25-year-old Robinson admitted 39 counts of manslaughter on or before October 24 last year.

Robinson, of Craigavon, Northern Ireland, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between May 1, 2018, and October 24, 2019.

He admitted acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

The prosecution asked for three weeks to consider whether to go ahead with a trial on that charge.

Robinson appeared by video link from custody before Mr Justice Sweeney alongside four co-defendants yesterday.

He was jointly charged with British-Romanian Gheorghe Nica (43), of Langdon Hills, Essex, who denied 39 counts of manslaughter.

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

Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga (27), of Tilbury, Essex, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Christopher Kennedy (23), of Corkley Road, 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 Mr 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.

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