Lorry driver admits manslaughter of 39 people found dead in refrigerated truck

Court artist sketch shows lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25, on a video-link at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court (Picture: AP)

A lorry driver has admitted the manslaughter of 39 people who were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Essex.

Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

Emergency services had been called to an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after a lorry arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium on 23 October.

They discovered the bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals inside a lorry trailer.

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

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Police activity in Grays, Essex, in 2019 after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container (Picture: PA)

In total five men who were charged following an investigation by Essex Police appeared for a virtual hearing at the Old Bailey before Mr Justice Sweeney.

Robinson denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

He previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property.

Robinson appeared at court via video link alongside four other co-defendants.

Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Mimosa Close in Langdon Hills, denied 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019.

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Candles laid out at a vigil for the 39 victims (Picture: PA)

Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, of Hobart Road in Tilbury, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Corkley Road in Darkley, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, has previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Valentin Calota, 37, of Cossington Road in Birmingham, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Prosecutor William Emlyn Jones QC said a human trafficking conspiracy charge was being dropped in relation to Kennedy and Robinson.

He asked for three weeks to decide whether to proceed with a trial against Robinson on the outstanding charge he faced.

The other defendants face a trial at the Old Bailey lasting up to eight weeks from 5 October.

The hearing was conducted with most lawyers and court reporters attending by Skype.