A lorry driver who was part of an alleged people-smuggling ring has admitted the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were discovered in the back of his refrigerated trailer.
Maurice Robinson, 25, pleaded guilty during a hearing at the Old Bailey today.
The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered by emergency services at an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, on October 23 last year.
The discovery was made shortly after the container arrived in Purfleet in the early hours of the same day, having travelled 173 miles from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.
Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 39 people, who were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Essex
The bodies of 31 men and eight women were found in a refrigerated lorry (pictured) in an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday, October 23
The victims had died up to 12 hours before Robinson hitched it to his Scania cab in Essex.
Some sent text messages saying they ‘couldn’t breathe’ in the refrigerated unit which reached temperatures as low as minus 25C.
The bodies of the victims, who all died of hypothermia or asphyxia, were discovered 30 minutes after he drove away.
Thirty of the group were from Vietnam’s poverty-stricken provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, which are said to be the heartlands of the country’s trafficking trade.
An Essex Police investigation into an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths led to charges against five men, including lorry driver Robinson.
During a virtual hearing at the Old Bailey, Robinson admitted 39 counts of manslaughter on or before October 24 last year.
Pham Tra My, 26, has been confirmed as among the 39 people who died in a lorry in Essex
Fifteen-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung (left) was the youngest of the group, 10 of whom were teenagers. Nguyen Dinh Lurong, 20, (right) was also named among those who died
Robinson, of Craigavon in 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.
The victims were were from five provinces in the central, coastal area of Vietnam and two provinces near Hanoi
Robinson appeared by videolink from custody before Mr Justice Sweeney alongside four co-defendants on Wednesday.
He was jointly charged with British Romanian Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Mimosa Close in Langdon Hills, who denied 39 counts of manslaughter.
Nica also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, of Hobart Road in Tilbury, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Corkley Road in 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 Kennedy and Robinson was being dropped by the Crown.
An Essex Police investigation into an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths led to charges against five men, including lorry driver Robinson
Alongside the investigation in the UK, police in Vietnam arrested eight people over the deaths, according to state media
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.
Alongside the investigation in the UK, police in Vietnam arrested eight people over the deaths, according to state media.
There was also a significant response from the Vietnamese community in the UK, who paid tribute to those who died.
Following the discovery of the bodies, members of the Vietnamese community gathered for a vigil at the Church of the Holy Name and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in East London.
More than 100 people gathered as candles arranged to read ’39’ were at the foot of the altar at the Catholic church, which has a large Vietnamese congregation.
Who were the 39 people who died in the Esssex lorry container?
These are the names of the victims of the Essex truck tragedy are:
Pham Thi Tra My, a 26-year-old woman from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Dinh Lurong, a 20-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Huy Phong, a 35-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Vo Nhan Du, a 19-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Tran Manh Hung, a 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Tran Khanh Tho, a 18-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Vo Van Linh, a 25-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Van Nhan, a 33-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Bui Phan Thang, a 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Huy Hung, a 15-year-old boy from Ha Tinh
Tran Thi Tho, a 21-year-old woman from Nghe An
Bui Thi Nhung, a 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
Vo Ngoc Nam, a 28-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Dinh Tu, a 26-year-old man from Nghe An
Le Van Ha, a 30-year-old man from Nghe An
Tran Thi Ngoc, a 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
Nguyen Van Hung, a 33-year-old man from Nghe An
Hoang Van Tiep, a 18-year-old man from Nghe An
Cao Tien Dung, a 37-year-old man from Nghe An
Cao Huy Thanh, a 33-year-old man from Nghe An
Tran Thi Mai Nhung, a 18-year-old woman from Nghe An
Nguyen Minh Quang, a 20-year-old man from Nghe An
Le Trong Thanh, a 44-year-old man from Dien Chau
Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, a 28-year-old woman from Nghe An
Hoang Van Hoi, a 24-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Tho Tuan, a 25-year-old man from Nghe An
Dang Huu Tuyen, a 22-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Trong Thai, a 26-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Van Hiep, a 24-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Thi Van, a 35-year-old woman from Nghe An
Tran Hai Loc, a 35-year-old man from Nghe An
Duong Minh Tuan, a 27-year-old man from Quang Binh
Nguyen Ngoc Ha, a 32-year-old man from Quang Binh
Nguyen Tien Dung, a 33-year-old man from Quang, Binh
Phan Thi Thanh, a 41-year-old woman from Hai Phong
Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, a 34-year-old man from Thua Tien Hue
Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, a 18-year-old man from Hai Phong
Tran Ngoc Hieu, a 17-year-old boy from Hai Duong
Dinh Dinh Binh, a 15-year-old boy from Hai Phong