In Depth

Essex lorry driver admits to 39 counts of manslaughter

Maurice Robinson pleads guilty after the deaths of a group of Vietnamese migrants

Lorry driver Maurice “Mo” Robinson has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found dead in a refrigerated trailer last October in Grays, Essex.

Robinson, 25, from County Armagh, previously admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Co-defendant Gheorghe Nica, 43, denied 39 counts of manslaughter. Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, both men, their lawyers and court reporters attended the hearing via video link.

What happened?

Police received reports that bodies had been found in a lorry at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, shortly before 1.40am on 23 October.

Police say the tractor unit - the front of the lorry - had collected the refrigerated trailer in Purfleet, and left the port at around 1.05am.

Ambulance staff discovered the bodies in the vehicle around half an hour later, but it is not known who alerted them.

Essex Police said identifying the bodies was the “largest mass fatality victim identification process” in the history of the force.

Officers checked the fingerprints and DNA of the victims against the Interpol Disaster Victim Identification Standards.

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What do we know about the victims?

The 39 victims were Vietnamese migrants and comprised eight women and 31 males. The youngest were two 15-year-old boys. 

All of the victims have been formally identified and their families informed.

The dead include Pham Thi Tra My, 26, who sent distressed messages to her family on 22 October, the day before the bodies were discovered.

“I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed,” said one text. “I am dying, I can't breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother.”

Neither the British nor Vietnamese governments were willing to bear the cost of repatriating the bodies to Vietnam, The Guardian reported at the time.

The repatriation was completed in late November 2019, with the families of the dead having to pay more than 66.2m Vietnamese dong (£2,204) each to have the bodies returned to Vietnam, according to the BBC.

Who else has been charged?

Another three men charged with other offences in connection with the deaths also appeared at the Old Bailey via video link.

The BBC reports that Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, while Christopher Kennedy, 23, also from County Armagh, has previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Valentin Calota, 37, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Robinson also admitted one further charge of transferring criminal property, but denied a charge of transferring criminal property.

The trials of the other defendants continue.

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