London | Four men were sentenced in London on Friday to terms ranging from 13 to 27 years in prison for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in the trailer of a truck in England in 2019.
The two main defendants, Ronan Hughes, a 41-year-old Northern Irish haulier, and Gheorghe Nica, a 43-year-old Romanian national, accused of being the organizers of the traffic, were sentenced to 20 and 27 years in prison respectively for manslaughter and smuggling of migrants.
The former had pleaded guilty, the latter had been declared guilty by the Old Bailey court in London on December 21.
Maurice Robinson, the driver who drove the truck at the time of the discovery of the bodies, who had pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison.
Eamon Harrisson, the 24-year-old driver who brought the trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, claiming he was unaware of the migrants on board, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
On October 23, 2019, the bodies of 31 men and eight women between the ages of 15 and 44 were found aboard a trailer in the Grays industrial area, east London.
The investigation uncovered a “sophisticated” and “profitable” business that had thrived for a long time, Judge Nigel Sweeney pointed out, referring to migrants’ desperate attempts to “reach the outside world by phone” or try to escape. to death trying to break the roof of the trailer.
The victims died of asphyxiation and hyperthermia in the confined space of the container.
Among them, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, had sent a chilling SMS to his relatives, a few hours before the discovery of the bodies: “Mum, dad, I love you very much. I’m dying, I can’t breathe anymore ”.
In a message broadcast to the hearing, a 25-year-old man repeated to his family that he was “sorry”: “It’s Tuan. (…) I won’t be able to take care of you. (…) I can not breathe. I want to come back to my family. I wish you a good life ”.
Migrants had to pay up to 13,000 pounds sterling (approximately $ 21,000 Canadian) to be transported “VIP”, that is to say with a driver aware of their presence.
A total of seven trips were identified between May 2018 and October 23, 2019.
Debts and hopes
Many of the victims of this tragedy were from a poor region in central Vietnam, where families are going into debt to send one of their own to the United Kingdom, via clandestine channels, in the hope that they will find there gainful jobs.
In their testimonies read at the hearing by the prosecutor, the families of the victims had recounted the pain of mourning and the dream of a better life which was fading. “It’s going to be very hard for me to earn money and raise our child on my own,” said Nguyen Thi Lam, who lost her husband in the tragedy and only has rice cultivation for her resources. and a little breeding.
Before the trial in London, seven people were sentenced on September 15 in Vietnam for their role in trafficking.
A court in Ha Tinh province (central) handed down four Vietnamese between the ages of 26 and 36, sentences ranging from two and a half to seven and a half years in prison. They were found guilty of participating to varying degrees in “the organization of the smuggling of migrants”. Three others were given suspended prison terms.
Investigations were also opened in France and Belgium, 13 suspects were charged in each of these two countries. They had been arrested during a vast international police operation, coordinated by the judicial cooperation body Eurojust.