Thursday, September 21, 2023

Grays: Man admits 40 offences in lorry deaths investigation

The bodies were discovered in the lorry in the early hours of 23 October 2019

“WE made a promise to the families of our 39 victims that we would deliver justice – and that’s exactly what we are doing.” 

Those are the words of the officer who has overseen our investigation into the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in Essex in October 2019.

Today, an eleventh person has been convicted for his part on the operation which led to the deaths of the 39 men, women and children.

As a result of our work with the National Crime Agency, Marius Mihai Draghici, 49, was arrested in Romania in August 2022 and extradited to the UK to face charges of 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. 

Today, Friday 23 June, Draghici admitted all charges during a hearing at the Central Criminal Court. 

He will be sentenced on a date yet to be fixed.

The tragic discovery was made in the early hours of Wednesday 23 October 2019, when the Vietnamese men, women and children were found unresponsive in the trailer of a lorry by its driver, in Eastern Avenue, Grays, Essex.

The lorry had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Purfleet, in Essex. 

Each of the victims, and their families, had paid significant sums of money to an organised criminal group whose members promised them safe passage to the UK and a life here. 

However, that promise turned to tragedy and the victims suffocated in the back of the lorry which was being driven by Northern Irishman Maurice Robinson.

Draghici’s role was to be involved in the onward transportation of the migrants once they arrived in the UK.

After an extensive investigation, ten people, have so far been sentenced for their roles in the deaths of the 39 people. Their sentences total almost 100 years. 

After Draghici, there is one remaining case. Caolan Gormley, 25, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, is charged with one count of conspiracy to assist illegal immigration. His trial is expected to take place in November 2023. He has been bailed from court with conditions.  

Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe, who is leading our investigation, said: “This is the most complex investigation ever undertaken by Essex Police and we have never lost sight of the far-reaching impact the events of October 2019 has had.

“Each of the people inside the lorry container were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. They have family who feel their loss acutely each and every day.

“Today is a significant day. Draghici’s pleas show that the evidence we were able to present was so overwhelming that he was left with very little option but to admit his guilt and he is the eleventh person to be convicted for their part in this tragic incident.”

DCI Metcalfe added: “Draghici left the UK after 23 October 2019 and remained hidden in Europe until August 2022. We have always maintained that the actions we believed Draghici was responsible for could never go unpunished. We now know they will not, and he is facing a significant amount of time in prison.

Det Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper, who has overseen our investigation, said: “We made a promise to the families of our 39 victims that we would deliver justice – and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

“We have been committed to tracking down every person we know to have been involved – none more so than Draghici, who attempted to stay hidden. Unfortunately for him, he could not stay hidden, and he will have to face the consequences of his actions. 

“We have left no stone unturned in our pursuit and Draghici’s admissions today show the strength of our investigation.”

Det Ch Supt Hooper added: “Throughout this investigation, my first and final thoughts have always been with the victims’ families. The tireless work this investigative team has put in, to secure justice, has been for them.

“This has never been about being triumphant, this has always been about delivering justice for 39 families who had their worlds ripped apart in October 2019 and I’m proud of the role Essex Police has played in that.”


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