Four guilty over deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants

December 21, 2020 - 21:08

After a 10-week trial at the Old Bailey in London, Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from Northern Ireland, were found guilty on Monday of 39 counts of manslaughter.


The vehicle containing the victims' bodies found at an industrial park in Grays, east of London in the UK, a year ago today. AFP/VNA Photo

Two men have been found guilty of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese immigrants who suffocated in the back of a container unit last year.

After a 10-week trial at the Old Bailey in London, Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from Northern Ireland, were found guilty on Monday of 39 counts of manslaughter.

They could now face life imprisonment when they are sentenced for their crimes.

The bodies of the Vietnamese migrants, aged between 15 and 44, were discovered in the back of a trailer in Essex in the south of England in October last year.

The two men, along with haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson, of Craigavon, were also convicted for their part in the people-smuggling operation.


The Old Bailey in London where the four men accused in connection with the deaths of 39 migrants were all found guilty. AFP Photo.

Three of the victims’ families have spoken of their grief and their ongoing prayers for their loved ones. The sister of 22-year-old Dang Huu Tuyen paid tribute to her “angel” of a brother, saying he was a “gentle, loving and dedicated Catholic”.

The parents of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, one of the two youngest people onboard, recalled their son’s love of football and how “peaceful and smart” he was, as well as his drive to do well at school.

The young son of 42-year-old Phan Thi Thanh has written a poem for his mother called “Beloved Mommy!”. 

Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben Julian Harrington, said after the verdicts: “The men who were found guilty today made their money from misery.

“They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they didn’t care.

“They tried to hide what they were doing. They attempted to evade detection. They thought they could cover up their crimes.

“Today, they have been proved wrong on every count.

 “Whilst I feel immense pride for the Essex Police teams, and our partners, for this diligent investigation, none of us will stop thinking of the victims and their families. Those family members are, in most cases, halfway across the world, and their lives will never be the same again.

“We will never forget those 39 victims – men, women, and children – who were sold the lie of safe passage to our country. The force made their loved ones a promise in the Book of Condolence shortly after the incident: that we would do everything in our power to bring those responsible for that horrific journey, which ended on our shores, to justice. Essex Police has worked hard to deliver on our promise, and I hope that is of some small comfort.”   

Watch a Viet Nam News special report on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, added: “This story started almost eight thousand miles away.

“Every man, woman and child, some as young as 15, who died in the lorry trailer was from Vietnam.

“They may have started their journeys at different times but, ultimately, they were all following the false promise of a new life. They put their trust in people they hoped would deliver them safely to our shores. As we all now know, sadly, that’s not how their journey ended.

“Family members and friends, many of whom are still thousands of miles away from where I stand today, have suffered an unimaginable loss. I know this because my team at Essex Police have heard their stories, and carefully recorded their testimony first-hand.

“Since our investigation started, on 23 October last year, more than 1,300 people have worked on this case. From the detectives, staff and volunteers at Essex Police, to other forces across the country, and national and international law enforcement, governments and embassies – this will be a case we will never forget.

“I’d like to speak directly to the families now: We are one step closer to getting you the justice you deserve. I know it won’t bring your loved ones back, but I hope it will offer some solace.

“Our thoughts are with you, today and always.”

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: “This was a truly tragic incident. While I’m pleased justice has been served, I know it will come as little comfort to the families of those who died. My thoughts remain with those affected by this tragedy. 

“Today’s convictions only strengthen my resolve to do all I can to go after the people smugglers who prey on the vulnerable and trade in human misery. I’m determined to bring callous people smugglers to justice and keep our communities safe from the actions of horrendous organised crime groups.   

“I want to thank all the agencies involved in this investigation, specifically Essex Police, the NCA, the Crown Prosecution Service and operational teams in the Home Office for their exemplary professionalism in pursuing convictions. We are fortunate to be served by such outstanding, committed officers, who help keep us safe and support those most in need.”

Russell Tyner, of the CPS Organised Crime Division, said: "This is an unimaginably tragic case. 39 vulnerable people desperate for a new life were driven to put their trust in a network of unscrupulous people smugglers and they suffered horrific consequences - not through their own fault but due to the sheer greed of others.

“They died through lack of oxygen, desperately trying to escape from the container. Some were able to express their last words to their families on their mobile phones when they knew their situation was hopeless.

“Nothing can bring back the lives lost on that day and the loss caused by the unlawful and dangerous actions taken by these defendants. But we hope that these convictions bring some measure of solace to their families that the perpetrators of these actions have faced justice. Our thoughts remain with them on what must be another painful day.

“The CPS hopes this terrible incident, and these convictions today, will send a real warning to anybody considering smuggling people into the UK in this way.”

The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, added: “The deaths of those people were an international tragedy that happened right here in our county. At the time I said we needed to come together as a community to help the police bring whoever was responsible to justice. We did just that and our force has done an outstanding job.

“On behalf of the people of Essex I would like to say thank you to each and every police officer, firefighter, paramedic, staff member and volunteer who was involved in this case beginning with the heart-breaking discovery of the crime, right through to catching those involved and bringing them before the courts.

“Nothing will ever bring those 39 people back, but I hope their families will be able to take some comfort from the fact that our emergency services treated them and their loved ones with the respect and compassion they deserved as well as working to get justice in their memories.”

The Director of Threat Leadership for the National Crime Agency (NCA), Rob Jones, said: “The organised criminal groups involved in immigration crime are callous and treat migrants as a commodity to be profited from. Their only motivation is money, they don’t care about the safety or consequences of their actions.

“Tragically in this case the consequences were fatal.  I’m pleased that those responsible will now be held accountable for their actions. I hope this outcome brings some comfort to the families of those who died.

“NCA officers in the UK and overseas worked alongside Essex Police throughout this investigation, providing specialist support and assistance. Our international network provided a crucial link to Vietnam and other countries involved in the investigation as it widened.

“We will continue to lead the UK’s fight against organised immigration crime, and my message to those involved in this exploitative trade is simple - we are coming after you. We are using the full range of tools at our disposal to disrupt and dismantle people smuggling networks impacting the UK, no matter where in the world they operate.” VNS


Verdicts in full:

Eamonn Harrison, a 24-year-old lorry driver from Mayobridge in Northern Ireland, was found guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter and guilty of one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Mimosa Close in Langdon Hills, was found guilty of the same charges.

Christopher Kennedy, 24, of Corkley Road in Darkley, County Armagh, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law.

While Valentin Calota, 38, of Cossingham Road in Birmingham, was found guilty of the same charge.


01 - Dinh Dinh Binh                  15-year-old boy from Hai Phong

02 - Nguyen Minh Quang       20-year-old man from Nghe An

03 - Nguyen Huy Phong          35-year-old man from Ha Tinh

04 - Le Van Ha                            30-year-old man from Nghe An

05 - Nguyen Van Hiep             24-year-old man from Nghe An

06 - Bui Phan Thang                 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh

07 - Nguyen Van Hung            33-year-old man from Nghe An

08 - Nguyen Huy Hung            15-year-old boy from Ha Tinh

09 - Nguyen Tien Dung           33-year-old man from Quang Binh

10 - Pham Thi Tra My              26-year-old woman from Ha Tinh

11 - Tran Khanh Tho                 18-year-old man from Ha Tinh

12 - Nguyen Van Nhan            33-year-old man from Ha Tinh

13 - Vo Ngoc Nam                     28-year-old man from Nghe An

14 - Vo Van Linh                        25-year-old man from Ha Tinh

15 - Nguyen Ba Vu Hung        34-year-old man from Thua Tien Hue

16 - Vo Nhan Du                        19-year-old man from Ha Tinh

17 - Tran Hai Loc                        35-year-old man from Nghe An

18 - Tran Manh Hung              37-year-old man from Ha Tinh

19 - Nguyen Thi Van                35-year-old woman from Nghe An

20 - Bui Thi Nhung                    19-year-old woman from Nghe An

21 - Hoang Van Tiep                 18-year-old man from Nghe An

22 - Tran Thi Ngoc                    19-year-old woman from Nghe An

23 - Phan Thi Thanh                 41-year-old woman from Hai Phong

24 - Tran Thi Tho                       21-year-old woman from Nghe An

25 – Duong Minh Tuan            27-year-old man from Quang Binh

26 - Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh      28-year-old woman from Nghe An

27 - Tran Thi Mai Nhung        18-year-old woman from Nghe An

28 - Le Trong Thanh                 44-year-old man from Dien Chau

29 - Nguyen Ngoc Ha               32-year-old man from Quang Binh

30 - Hoang Van Hoi                   24-year-old man from Nghe An

31 - Tran Ngoc Hieu                 17-year-old boy from Hai Duong

32 - Cao Tien Dung                   37-year-old man from Nghe An

33 - Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen    18-year-old man from Hai Phong

34 - Dang Huu Tuyen               22-year-old man from Nghe An

35 - Nguyen Dinh Luong       20-year-old man from Ha Tinh

36 - Cao Huy Thanh                  37-year-old man from Nghe An

37 - Nguyen Trong Thai           26-year-old man from Nghe An

38 - Nguyen Tho Tuan             25-year-old man from Nghe An

39 - Nguyen Dinh Tu                26-year-old man from Nghe An

This poem, ‘Beloved mommy!’, was crafted by the young son of Phan Thi Thanh. She was 41 years old and came from the Hai Phong Province.  

“Beloved mommy!”

The two beloved sounds

They’re amazingly sweet

Since I was born

That mommy’s form

Always by my side

Always guiding me the way

O time, please stop dripping away

Please slow down

So mommy’s always sound

And loving me

For the people who still have a mommy

Please don’t make her cry

Please love her, and be kind

It’s our mommy, my friend!

O my mommy

Love you, O how much I love you

Love you with all my heart

Love you with all my soul.

 I love you mommy!