London court hands down heavy sentences to migrant ‘death truck’ gang

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The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales (colloquially known as the Old Bailey from the street where it is located) handed down long prison sentences to members of a group of people smugglers who tried to bring 39 Vietnamese nationals into England in October 2019. The Vietnamese, crammed into the hold of the truck, all died.

Hungarian news agency MTI reports that the court sentenced the two organizers of the human trafficking network, Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica, a Romanian citizen, to 20 and 27 years in prison, respectively, and Eamonn Harrison, a truck driver, to 18 years in prison for 39 counts of homicide. Harrison transported the trailer in which the 39 Vietnamese were traveling to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

The trailer, crossing to England without a tractor, was picked up by another driver, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, at the Purfleet ferry terminal at the mouth of the River Thames on the English side. Robinson was sentenced by the Old Bailey Criminal Council to 13 years and four months in prison.

At dawn on Oct. 22, 2019, the 39 Vietnamese were found dead by Robinson in the hold of a truck in Thurrock Industrial Park in the south-east of England after being instructed by Hughes to let them in but not let them out of the trailer.

The security camera in the industrial park picked up Robinson opening the trailer door, staring at the corpses in shock and helplessness for a while, before running away. According to the indictment, the driver only notified the police after 23 minutes.

The truck’s Scania-type semi-trailer tractor with a Bulgarian license plate was shipped by a ferry from Ireland to England and picked up by the trailer shortly before the bodies were found. According to the British prosecution, the case is backed by a global network that organized the smuggling of a significant number of illegal immigrants into Britain.

Robinson and Hughes admitted to the crime, but Harrison and Nica denied the charges. Harrison testified in court that he was unaware of the Vietnamese presence in the cargo hold of the truck he was driving, believing he was transporting stolen truck parts. However, the Old Bailey jury found him guilty last month at the end of a ten-week trial.

38.5 C in the unventilated trailer

The British authorities, after several weeks of investigation, identified the victims in November 2019, and it was then officially revealed that they were all Vietnamese nationals, including two 15-year-old boys. They were the youngest, but eight more teenagers were on the list of victims; their ages range from 17 to 19 years old. The oldest victim is a 44-year-old man.

Among the victims were eight women. According to the test report, they all died of suffocation after spending 12 hours in the airtight cargo space. According to the expert, the temperature in the unventilated trailer could reached as high as 38.5 degrees Celsius.

The most recent people smuggling crime in Britain ended in 2000 with another significant tragedy: the bodies of 58 Chinese citizens were found in the port of Dover in the south-east of England in a trailer with a Dutch license plate, also from the port of Zeebrugge.

Title image: Left to right, upper and lower row: Maurice Robinson, Ronan Hughes, Valentin Colota, Christopher Kennedy, Alexandru Ovidiu Hanga and Gheorghe Nica. (source:

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