Essex lorry deaths: Ronan Hughes 'was organiser'

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

  • Published
Ronan HughesImage source, Essex Police
Image caption,
Ronan Hughes is being sought by Essex police

A man whose extradition is being sought by Essex Police over the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese nationals was the organiser of the criminal activity for financial gain, a court has heard.

A bail application for 40-year-old Ronan Hughes, of Leitrim, Silverstream, Tyholland, County Monaghan, took place on Wednesday.

The bodies of the 39 were found in a lorry trailer in Grays last October.

It had landed at Purfleet in Essex from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

Mr Hughes, who is being sought over the manslaughter of the 39 Vietnamese nationals as well as immigration offences, observed proceedings by video link from Cloverhill prison in Dublin.

Objecting to bail, Garda (Irish police) Sgt Jim Kirwan said Mr Hughes has the ability to abscond and has connections throughout Europe.

He said he has in the past registered a business in Bulgaria.

Sgt Kirwan said Mr Hughes has a 2009 cigarette smuggling conviction that defrauded the UK revenue authorities of almost £1m as well as several motoring convictions.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The bodies were discovered in the lorry in the early hours of 23 October 2019

The officer told the High Court Mr Hughes has access to numerous vehicles and more than €200,000 (£173,000) in 33 bank accounts.

He said Mr Hughes had also failed to present himself to British police for questioning despite requests to do so.

In video evidence, Mr Hughes confirmed he had a Northern Ireland driving licence using his wife's home address in Armagh.

However, he admitted he never lived there.

The father-of-two estimated his haulage business had a turnover of between €500,000 (£433,000) and €600,000 (£520,000), but said his business wasn't very profitable.

Mr Justice Paul Burns said he will give a judgement on Thursday morning and remanded Mr Hughes in custody until 15 May.

Earlier this month, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson from Craigavon, County Armagh, in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter at the Old Bailey.

Sgt Kirwan told the High Court Robinson has claimed to British police he received £25,000 from Mr Hughes for his involvement in the people smuggling.

In November, Robinson pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property.

Robinson will be sentenced at a later date.

Four other men will stand trial at the Old Bailey in connection with this investigation.

Another man, 22-year-old Eamonn Harrison, from Mayobridge, County Down, Northern Ireland, is appealing against his extradition from the Republic of Ireland to the UK to face charges related to the Essex lorry discovery.

The charges include 39 charges of manslaughter, and a charge of conspiracy to traffic people, as well as conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

A further hearing will be held in Dublin on 7 May.