A man from Northern Ireland facing charges over the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found last month in the back of a truck trailer in Essex pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge of plotting to assist illegal immigration.
Maurice — known as Mo — Robinson, 25, from Laurel Drive, Craigavon, appeared at London’s Central Criminal Court by video link to face a series of charges, the most serious being 39 counts of manslaughter over the deaths of the 31 men and eight women whose bodies were discovered in the truck on October 23.
Mr Robinson also admitted a charge of receiving criminal property but he was not asked to enter pleas on the other charges he faces, including manslaughter. He is due to appear again on December 13.
Separately, Christopher Kennedy, 23, from Darley, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, made his first appearance in court, at Chelmsford magistrates’ court, in relation to the case.
Mr Kennedy was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning on the M40 motorway near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and was charged with conspiracy to traffic people and facilitate illegal immigration. He entered no plea and was remanded to appear at the Central Criminal Court on December 13.
In another case, a 22-year-old man from Mayobridge, Northern Ireland, is facing extradition proceedings from the Irish Republic, where he was arrested, to face charges in the UK, including manslaughter.
The discovery of the bodies in Essex is the worst case in the UK involving migrants since 50 Chinese nationals were found dead in the back of a truck in 2000.
The 39 bodies were discovered in the refrigerated trailer on the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, 35 minutes after Mr Robinson had picked it up from the nearby port of Purfleet. The trailer had arrived unaccompanied on a ferry from Zeebrugge, in Belgium.
The deaths have highlighted the extraordinary steps that some Vietnamese people — many of them orphans — take to enter the UK.
Ten of the victims in the trailer in Essex were teenagers, according to Essex Police, including two aged 15.
The deaths have not stopped such incidents. On November 20, 16 migrants — all reported to be ethnic Kurds and including two juveniles — were found in the back of a truck on a ferry from Cherbourg, in France, to Rosslare, in the Irish Republic.
On November 6, police in the UK found 15 people in the back of a truck on the A350 in Wiltshire. Earlier the same day Dutch border police found 16 people in the back of a truck that was boarding a UK-bound ferry at the port of Ijmuiden.