Bodies found in a lorry container at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex | Photo: Picture-alliance/empics/S.Rousseau
Bodies found in a lorry container at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex | Photo: Picture-alliance/empics/S.Rousseau

A 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland pleaded guilty on Wednesday to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese nationals who were found dead in a refrigerated container near London in October last year. Four other defendants who have denied the charges will face trial in October.

Maurice Robinson, the 25-year-old driver of the truck, was arrested shortly after the bodies of 31 men and eight women from Vietnam were found in a truck container at an industrial park in Greys, east of of the British capital London, in October 2020.

On Wednesday, Robinson pleaded guilty to manslaughter after already having accepted charges of assisting unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property. He appeared in court via Skype alongside four co-defendants at the UK's Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in London. 

Robinson is one of five men charged in Britain in relation to the deaths, with several other suspects arrested in Vietnam. The four co-defendants present in Wednesday's hearing denied the charges of manslaughter and assisting illegal immigration.

A next trial against them is scheduled to open in October, reports news agency dpa.

'I'm dying because I can't breathe'

One of the suspects, Eamonn Harrison from Northern Ireland, was arrested in Dublin and is currently fighting extradition from Ireland to Britain. He is believed to have driven the container to the Belgium port of Zeebrugge, from where it was shipped by ferry to Purfleet in England. 

According to British police, Robinson picked up the container in Purfleet and drove it Greys, Essex, where it was found abandoned in the early hours of October 23, 2019.

The 39 victims included eight women and two 15-year-old boys, AFP reports. They were found to have died from lack of oxygen and overheating. 

The family of a 26-year-old woman named Pham Thi Tra My, who was among the dead, said they received a text message from her shortly before she is believed to have died, reading: "I'm sorry Mom. My path going abroad won't succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I'm dying because I can't breathe."

Hundreds of Vietnamese migrants are reportedly smuggled into the UK each year with many ending up working in nail salons  Photo ImagoUIGP Deloche Human trafficking from Vietnam to Europe

The victims reportedly came from impoverished and remote areas in central Vietnam. From there, smuggling networks are known to operate by organizing trips to Europe for up to $40,000 -- an enourmous amount of money compared to the average yearly income in Vietnam, which according to World Bank data lies at around $2,400. 

Many Vietnamese people who hope to start a better life in Europe are smuggled illegally through Russia or China, AFP reports. They often fall into debt, and if they arrive at their destination in Britain, they usually end up working illegally and getting paid under the table under highly exploitative circumstances. 

Many reported cases of exploitation and slavery are related to the nail saloon industry, a well-established business model in Britain that many trafficked Vietnamese migrants end up working in.

With dpa/AFP/AP


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