A British court has heard accounts from the families of 39 people who were found dead in the back of a lorry near London in October 2019. Four men convicted of manslaughter face possible life sentences.
Ronan Hughes, the ringleader of a migrant-smuggling gang, was reported to have closed his eyes at London's Old Bailey court as he heard recordings of the final moments inside the lorry in which 39 Vietnamese migrants lost their lives.
In one recorded message, a man struggled for air as he apologized to his family, saying "I can't breathe."
"I want to come back to my family. Have a good life," he added. Noises of distress from other people in the lorry could be heard in the background, the news agency AFP reports.
The bodies of 29 men, 8 women and 2 boys were found by lorry driver Maurice Robinson inside a sealed container at the southeastern English port of Purfleet on October 23, 2019.
Before being discovered, the bodies had been sealed inside the container for at least 12 hours in high temperatures. A forensic expert said it would have taken about nine hours for the air to turn toxic in the trailer, with death coming soon after, according to AFP. The victims were aged between 15 and 44.
Prosecutors have said the trapped migrants were unable to get a phone signal inside the container.
Hughes, Robinson, another driver Eamonn Harrison and Romanian gang boss Gheorghe Nica were all convicted on 39 counts of manslaughter at a trial that ended last month. They face possible life sentences.
Families suffer loss
Statements by the victims' families were read out in court this week by the prosecutor, Jonathan Polnay.
Nguyen Huy Tung, whose 15-year-old son Nguyen Huy Hung died in the incident, said the family "did not believe it was the truth until we saw his body by our own eyes" at the hospital.
"We were very shocked, trembled, we lost track and awareness of our surroundings," he added. "My wife fainted many times whenever our son's name was mentioned."
Another victim, Dinh Dinh Binh, was also 15 when he died in the lorry. His mother, Bui Thi Nguyet, said: "Although we have received his cremated ashes and organized his funeral, we have not been able to get back to our normal life yet. "Our economic conditions and work are negatively affected. We have had to sell some properties of the family to afford our life."
Tran Hai Loc and his wife Nguyen Thi Van, both 35, left behind two children, aged six and four, when they died on the journey. "Everyday, when they come home from school they always look at the photos of their parents on the altar," said the children's grandfather Tran Dinh Thanh. "The (death) of both parents is a big loss to them."
Hughes, Robinson, Harrison and Nica, along with another four people convicted of involvement, are set to be sentenced on Monday.