Seven men have been jailed for a total of more than 92 years in connection with the 39 Vietnamese citizens found dead at the back of a lorry in the United Kingdom in October 2019.
The people smuggling gang were jailed at London’s Old Bailey on Friday afternoon UK time by his Hon. Mr Justice Sweeney.
Sentencing them, the judge said: "I have no doubt that the conspiracy was a sophisticated, long-running and profitable one to smuggle mainly Vietnamese people across the channel.
"There were desperate attempts to contact the outside world by phone and to break through the roof of the container. All were to no avail and, before the ship reached Purfleet, [the victims] all died in what must have been an excruciatingly painful death."
Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben-Julian Harrington, acknowledged that the result upheld the promise he had made to the families more than a year ago.
He said: “Their families, most of them thousands of miles away, have had their heartbreak played out for the world to see. They’ve kept their dignity, and they put their trust in us to deliver justice. I promised them that we would, and my teams have done just that.
“Our thoughts and our prayers will always be with the families of the victims and we’ll continue to support them in any way we can.”
Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, added: “I welcome the sentences given today, a reflection of both the serious criminality and the tragic nature of this case.
“May this serve as a warning to those who think it’s okay to prey on the vulnerabilities of migrants and their families, transporting them in a way worse than we would transport animals. My message to you is that we will find you and we will stop you.
“We’re also working closely with the haulage industry, to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again.
“I hope it will bring the families some comfort to know that they will serve a [significant amount of] time in prison, but I know that their pain will never go away.”
Lorry driver Eamon Harrison, 24, was given 18 years and fellow driver Maurice Robinson, 26, 13 years and four months.Ronan Hughes, 41 and Gheorghe Nica, 43, were leading figures in the people smuggling operation. They were jailed for 20 and 27 years respectively.
Three others members of the people-smuggling gang were also sentenced for conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration. Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, was jailed for seven years; Valentin Calota, 38, of Birmingham, for four-and-a-half years; and Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, of Hobart Road, Tilbury, Essex, was given a three-year sentence. - VNS