FOUR men been found guilty of their involvement in a people smuggling ring, which contributed to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese men, women and children in October last year.
Three of the victims’ families have spoken of their grief and their ongoing prayers for their loved ones. The sister of 22-year-old Dang Huu Tuyen paid tribute to her “angel” of a brother, saying he was a “gentle, loving and dedicated Catholic”.
The parents of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, one of the two youngest people onboard, recalled their son’s love of football and how “peaceful and smart” he was, as well as his drive to do well at school.
The young son of 42-year-old Phan Thi Thanh has written a poem for his mother called “Beloved Mommy!”.
At the Old Bailey today, Monday 21 December, the jury returned their verdicts after a 10-week trial.
Eamonn Harrison, a 24-year-old lorry driver from Mayobridge in Northern Ireland, was found guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter and guilty of one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Mimosa Close in Langdon Hills, was found guilty of the same charges.
Christopher Kennedy, 24, of Corkley Road in Darkley, County Armagh, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law.
While Valentin Calota, 38, of Cossingham Road in Birmingham, was found guilty of the same charge.
The tragic discovery of 39 Vietnamese men, women and children unresponsive in the trailer of a lorry by its driver, Maurice Robinson, in Eastern Avenue, Grays, was made in the early hours of Wednesday 23 October 2019.
Following his arrest, the largest investigation in Essex Police’s history ensued, unravelling a network of organised criminals, which had operated in the UK and overseas.
During the investigation, it was discovered that Hughes and Nica had overseen two earlier journeys that month, on 11 and 18 October 2019, in which people had been brought into the country. They were assisted by two other lorry drivers, Harrison and Kennedy and a number of other drivers who picked up passengers from a pre-arranged drop-off site in Thurrock and transported them to locations across London.
Nica has previously admitted his role in the breach of immigration law on those two dates but had denied his involvement on the 23 October.
Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben Julian Harrington, said of the result:
“The men who were found guilty today made their money from misery.
“They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they didn’t care.
“They tried to hide what they were doing. They attempted to evade detection. They thought they could cover up their crimes.
“Today, they have been proved wrong on every count.
“Whilst I feel immense pride for the Essex Police teams, and our partners, for this diligent investigation, none of us will stop thinking of the victims and their families. Those family members are, in most cases, halfway across the world, and their lives will never be the same again.
“We will never forget those 39 victims – men, women, and children – who were sold the lie of safe passage to our country. The force made their loved ones a promise in the Book of Condolence shortly after the incident: that we would do everything in our power to bring those responsible for that horrific journey, which ended on our shores, to justice. Essex Police has worked hard to deliver on our promise, and I hope that is of some small comfort.”
Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, said: “This story started almost eight thousand miles away.
“Every man, woman and child, some as young as 15, who died in the lorry trailer was from Vietnam.
“They may have started their journeys at different times but, ultimately, they were all following the false promise of a new life. They put their trust in people they hoped would deliver them safely to our shores. As we all now know, sadly, that’s not how their journey ended.
“Family members and friends, many of whom are still thousands of miles away from where I stand today, have suffered an unimaginable loss. I know this because my team at Essex Police have heard their stories, and carefully recorded their testimony first-hand.
“Since our investigation started, on 23 October last year, more than 1,300 people have worked on this case. From the detectives, staff and volunteers at Essex Police, to other forces across the country, and national and international law enforcement, governments and embassies – this will be a case we will never forget.
“I’d like to speak directly to the families now: We are one step closer to getting you the justice you deserve. I know it won’t bring your loved ones back, but I hope it will offer some solace.
“Our thoughts are with you, today and always.”
Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: “This was a truly tragic incident. While I’m pleased justice has been served, I know it will come as little comfort to the families of those who died. My thoughts remain with those affected by this tragedy.
“Today’s convictions only strengthen my resolve to do all I can to go after the people smugglers who prey on the vulnerable and trade in human misery. I’m determined to bring callous people smugglers to justice and keep our communities safe from the actions of horrendous organised crime groups.
“I want to thank all the agencies involved in this investigation, specifically Essex Police, the NCA, the Crown Prosecution Service and operational teams in the Home Office for their exemplary professionalism in pursuing convictions. We are fortunate to be served by such outstanding, committed officers, who help keep us safe and support those most in need.”
Russell Tyner, of the CPS Organised Crime Division, said: “This is an unimaginably tragic case. 39 vulnerable people desperate for a new life were driven to put their trust in a network of unscrupulous people smugglers and they suffered horrific consequences – not through their own fault but due to the sheer greed of others.
“They died through lack of oxygen, desperately trying to escape from the container. Some were able to express their last words to their families on their mobile phones when they knew their situation was hopeless.
“Nothing can bring back the lives lost on that day and the loss caused by the unlawful and dangerous actions taken by these defendants. But we hope that these convictions bring some measure of solace to their families that the perpetrators of these actions have faced justice. Our thoughts remain with them on what must be another painful day.
“The CPS hopes this terrible incident, and these convictions today, will send a real warning to anybody considering smuggling people into the UK in this way.”
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, added: “The deaths of those people were an international tragedy that happened right here in our county. At the time I said we needed to come together as a community to help the police bring whoever was responsible to justice. We did just that and our force has done an outstanding job.
“On behalf of the people of Essex I would like to say thank you to each and every police officer, firefighter, paramedic, staff member and volunteer who was involved in this case beginning with the heart-breaking discovery of the crime, right through to catching those involved and bringing them before the courts.
“Nothing will ever bring those 39 people back, but I hope their families will be able to take some comfort from the fact that our emergency services treated them and their loved ones with the respect and compassion they deserved as well as working to get justice in their memories.”
The Director of Threat Leadership for the National Crime Agency (NCA), Rob Jones, said: “The organised criminal groups involved in immigration crime are callous and treat migrants as a commodity to be profited from. Their only motivation is money, they don’t care about the safety or consequences of their actions.
“Tragically in this case the consequences were fatal. I’m pleased that those responsible will now be held accountable for their actions. I hope this outcome brings some comfort to the families of those who died.
“NCA officers in the UK and overseas worked alongside Essex Police throughout this investigation, providing specialist support and assistance. Our international network provided a crucial link to Vietnam and other countries involved in the investigation as it widened.
“We will continue to lead the UK’s fight against organised immigration crime, and my message to those involved in this exploitative trade is simple – we are coming after you. We are using the full range of tools at our disposal to disrupt and dismantle people smuggling networks impacting the UK, no matter where in the world they operate.”
The NPCC lead for Organised Immigration crime, Shaun Sawyer, said “The inhumanity demonstrated by these men towards the 39 men, women and children who ultimately lost their lives is truly distressing.”
“Essex Police along with national and international law enforcement partners have successfully achieved justice in this case and our determined effort to prevent organised crime gangs engaged in trafficking vulnerable and exploited people into our country continues.”
“This year the Home Office has provided extra funding to policing in addition to the uplift in police officers, to assist the UK law enforcement effort to disrupt and prosecute these gangs. With this support and the experience learned from this investigation we will continue our endeavour to seek to prevent tragedies such as this from happening again.”
Those found guilty will be sentenced at a later date alongside those who have already entered guilty pleas to the offences against them: lorry driver Maurice Robinson, transport fixer Ronan Hughes, and drivers Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga and Gazmir Nuzi.
Hughes’ brother Christopher was initially named as a suspect in this investigation, based on evidence and information available to Essex Police.
He was later subject of a voluntary interview within the Republic of Ireland, and that was intentionally because of legal difficulties in speaking to him elsewhere. No further action will be taken against him.
A full list of the victims’ names and ages is below.
01 – Dinh Dinh Binh 15-year-old boy from Hai Phong
02 – Nguyen Minh Quang 20-year-old man from Nghe An
03 – Nguyen Huy Phong 35-year-old man from Ha Tinh
04 – Le Van Ha 30-year-old man from Nghe An
05 – Nguyen Van Hiep 24-year-old man from Nghe An
06 – Bui Phan Thang 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
07 – Nguyen Van Hung 33-year-old man from Nghe An
08 – Nguyen Huy Hung 15-year-old boy from Ha Tinh
09 – Nguyen Tien Dung 33-year-old man from Quang Binh
10 – Pham Thi Tra My 26-year-old woman from Ha Tinh
11 – Tran Khanh Tho 18-year-old man from Ha Tinh
12 – Nguyen Van Nhan 33-year-old man from Ha Tinh
13 – Vo Ngoc Nam 28-year-old man from Nghe An
14 – Vo Van Linh 25-year-old man from Ha Tinh
15 – Nguyen Ba Vu Hung 34-year-old man from Thua Tien Hue
16 – Vo Nhan Du 19-year-old man from Ha Tinh
17 – Tran Hai Loc 35-year-old man from Nghe An
18 – Tran Manh Hung 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
19 – Nguyen Thi Van 35-year-old woman from Nghe An
20 – Bui Thi Nhung 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
21 – Hoang Van Tiep 18-year-old man from Nghe An
22 – Tran Thi Ngoc 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
23 – Phan Thi Thanh 41-year-old woman from Hai Phong
24 – Tran Thi Tho 21-year-old woman from Nghe An
25 – Duong Minh Tuan 27-year-old man from Quang Binh
26 – Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh 28-year-old woman from Nghe An
27 – Tran Thi Mai Nhung 18-year-old woman from Nghe An
28 – Le Trong Thanh 44-year-old man from Dien Chau
29 – Nguyen Ngoc Ha 32-year-old man from Quang Binh
30 – Hoang Van Hoi 24-year-old man from Nghe An
31 – Tran Ngoc Hieu 17-year-old boy from Hai Duong
32 – Cao Tien Dung 37-year-old man from Nghe An
33 – Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen 18-year-old man from Hai Phong
34 – Dang Huu Tuyen 22-year-old man from Nghe An
35 – Nguyen Dinh Luong 20-year-old man from Ha Tinh
36 – Cao Huy Thanh 37-year-old man from Nghe An
37 – Nguyen Trong Thai 26-year-old man from Nghe An
38 – Nguyen Tho Tuan 25-year-old man from Nghe An
39 – Nguyen Dinh Tu 26-year-old man from Nghe An
This tribute is from the sister of Dang Huu Tuyen. She speaks on behalf of his entire family. Her brother was 22 years old and from the Nghe An province.
“Tuyen was gentle, lovely and dedicated Catholic who never did anything to hurt other people.
“He was like an angel who had been sent to us by God and stayed for a time before he returned to God. A decent young man. Now he deserves a place in heaven where he can enjoy eternal life
“Tuyen wanted to come to the UK so that he could attend mass every Sunday.
“To relieve our pain we turn to God as often as we can. I have always prayed with my family on the internet to pray for the repose of our brother’s soul.
“As a family our hearts are broken.”
This tribute is from the parents of Nguyen Huy Hung. Their son was a big football fan and, at 15-years-old, was one of the two youngest onboard the lorry. He came from the Ha Tinh province.
“Our son was a very peaceful and smart boy. He loved football very much and he loved UK teams as well as the Champion’s League. He was also a good player.
“He always dreamt of going to the UK and he tried very hard to study at school as well as learning English for that purpose.
“His loss is so sudden for us and he did not have a chance to fulfil his dream.
“We pray for his soul to rest in peace and hope his dreams will be realised in a better world.”
This poem, ‘Beloved mommy!’, was crafted by the young son of Phan Thi Thanh. She was 41 years old and came from the Hai Phong province.
The two beloved sounds
They’re amazingly sweet
Since I was born
That mommy’s form
Always by my side
Always guiding me the way
O time, please stop dripping away
Please slow down
So mommy’s always sound
And loving me
For the people who still have a mommy
Please don’t make her cry
Please love her, and be kind
It’s our mommy, my friend!
O my mommy
Love you, O how much I love you
Love you with all my heart
Love you with all my soul.
I love you mommy!