U.K. truck driver pleads guilty in deaths of 39 Vietnamese
In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurrock, England. (Alastair Grant / AP)
LONDON -- A truck driver accused in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants whose bodies were found inside a refrigerated container that had been hauled to England pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday.
Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, entered the plea at Central London Criminal Court. Robinson appeared in court via video link alongside four co-defendants.
The bodies of the 39 people were found in the container at the back of the truck on Oct. 23.. Police investigating the case found the 31 male and eight female victims were all from Vietnam and ranged in age from 15 to 44, including 10 teenagers.
Police said they died of a combination of a lack of oxygen and overheating in an enclosed space. The victims came from impoverished villages in Vietnam and are believed to have paid people smugglers to take them on risky journey to better lives abroad.
The truck discovered in the town of Grays, east of London, had arrived in England on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Robinson previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property. He denied a charge of transferring criminal property.
Another defendant, Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Langdon Hills, denied 39 counts of manslaughter.
Romanian national Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 27, denied a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Christopher Kennedy, 23, of County Armagh, Northern Ireland, previously denied conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.
A trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 5.
Robinson appeared at court via video link alongside four other co-defendants.
British Romanian 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.
Romanian national 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.