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Guilty plea from haulier accused of manslaughter of Vietnamese migrants

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A Northern Irish haulier has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of migrants who were found dead in the trailer of a lorry in Essex.

Ronan Hughes, 40, of Co Armagh, admitted the charge on Friday at the Old Bailey.

He was one of several men accused of being part of a people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of the 39 migrants last October.

It had been alleged he played a leading role in the operation, with his trailers and drivers used to transport migrants. 

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after the lorry arrived in Purfleet on a ferry in the early hours of October 23 last year.

Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.

An inquest heard their medical cause of death was asphyxia and hyperthermia – a lack of oxygen and overheating – in an enclosed space. 

Six men, including Ronan Hughes, are due to appear at the Old Bailey accused of being part of a people-smuggling ring. 

Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland, is alleged to have driven the lorry trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it sailed to Purfleet in England.

Harrison, who was extradited from the Republic of Ireland, is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. 

He is expected to appear at the Old Bailey along with Hughes and Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Langdon Hills, Basildon, Essex, who is also alleged to have been a key player.

Nica has previously denied 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Gazmir Nuzi, 42, Barclay Road, Tottenham, north London, have denied being part of a people-smuggling operation, which it is alleged made two previous successful runs from the continent.

An eight-week trial has been fixed to start at the Old Bailey on October 5.

On April 8, lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, who discovered the bodies after transporting the container from Purfleet to an alleged pick-up point in Grays, Essex, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019 and acquiring criminal property, but denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

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