Essex lorry deaths: Accused made earlier crossing attempt

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lorry deathsImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
The victims were discovered when the container was opened at Purfleet in Essex

Some of the 39 people found dead in a lorry container in Essex were involved in an earlier crossing bid organised by the same men, a court has heard.

The Vietnamese nationals, aged between 15 and 44, suffocated as they were transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet on 23 October last year.

Jurors heard how the victims had been sealed in the pitch black unit in "unbearable" 38.5C heat for 12 hours.

Four men are on trial at the Old Bailey in connection with their deaths.

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones told the court about two earlier people-smuggling trips in October last year.

On 11 October, he said, witnesses reported seeing 15 to 20 people emerge from a lorry trailer close to the Essex port, and run towards a fleet of dark cars which then drove off at speed.

That trailer, he said, was dropped off by driver Eamonn Harrison at Zeebrugge - and collected by Christopher Kennedy at Purfleet, before it was met by Gheorghe Nica and others at a nearby pick-up point.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The container had "become a tomb", the Old Bailey heard

On 14 October, Mr Kennedy was stopped at Coquelles in France en route to Folkestone via the Eurotunnel, the court heard.

His lorry was searched and 20 Vietnamese people were discovered in the back and taken away by authorities, Mr Emlyn Jones said.

"At least two of the Vietnamese nationals turfed out of the lorry that night ended up in Harrison's lorry on 22 October, and were amongst the victims who died that night," he said.

'Plan B'

The prosecutor added: "These particular victims had secured the services of the organised criminal network to get them to the UK, providing £10,000 a head for that service.

"Obviously, they need a plan B, they try again.

"So the organisers have to arrange a replacement journey - which again involves the same teams of drivers, lorries, and so on."

Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, and Mr Harrison, 23, of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland, deny 39 counts of manslaughter.

Nica has admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019.

Mr Harrison, Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, and Mr Kennedy, 24, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, deny the conspiracy charge.

The trial continues.

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