Some doomed migrants tried to enter UK days before death, court told

Some of the 39 migrants found dead in a lorry container in Essex were involved in a failed attempt to enter the UK just days earlier, a court heard.

Twenty Vietnamese men and women were found inside a lorry on the French side of the Channel Tunnel on October 14 last year, a trial at the Old Bailey heard today, Thursday, October 8.

They were all taken away by local authorities while alleged driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, was allowed to continue onwards to Kent, the court heard.

Jurors heard that “at least two” members of this group were among the 28 men, eight women and three children who died on October 23, reports the Mirror Online.

The thirty-nine people were found dead in Thurrock.

Speaking about the alleged earlier incident, prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones told the court: ”You may think that this provides a powerful link between the activities of the 14th – the attempt to get 20 migrants into the UK – and then the fatal episode.

“We suggest these particular victims had secured the services of the organised criminal network, paying an enormous amount of money for that service.

“It didn’t work, so obviously they need a plan B…so they try again.

“The organisers have to arrange a replacement journey, which again involves the same teams of drivers, lorries, network of contacts and so on.”

Jurors were told the alleged people-smugglers organised their plot using untraceable “burner” phones.

Mr Jones said: “Dirty phones, for dirty business.”

They are also accused of having tampered with seals to allow them to open and reopen trailer doors undetected.

The cost of crossing the Channel illegally is said to have been “upwards of £10,000” per person.

Jurors were today shown CCTV and maps detailing the alleged movements of those on trial in the weeks before the deaths.

Drivers allegedly picked up migrants at secluded locations across France and Belgium while also collecting legitimate cargo.

Key members of the group are accused of having exchanged a steady stream of texts, calls and messages to organise the operation.

Mr Jones said most of the “team” had more than one phone number – and said that one key member owned at least four mobiles.

Describing one such device, he added: “It’s what we call a ‘burner’, a ‘dirty phone’, it’s not registered to him or to anyone. It’s untraceable, it’s disposable.”

Prosecutors say the group orchestrated two successful crossings on October 11 and October 18.

Following the first, 15 to 20 migrants were seen jumping out of a lorry outside a remote Essex farm before being collected by four cars.

The court was also told that temperature records from the refrigerated container, which was transporting macaroons and Bakewell tarts, allegedly prove people were inside during the October 17/18 crossing.

Mr Jones said: “The temperature was 13.2C at about 8.45am. You may think this reflects the ambient air temperature of an autumn morning in Belgium.”

Mr Jones said that the temperature rose significantly after driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, made an unscheduled stop in Nieppe, France.

He added: “The prosecution suggest that the only explanation for this is the presence inside that trailer now of warm-blooded, breathing human beings.

“It certainly isn’t the biscuits.”

The court heard the temperature hit 25.2C by the time the container arrived at Purfleet Docks on the morning of October 18.

Forensics at the scene at the Waterglade Industrial Estate in Thurrock
(Image: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

A high of 38.5C was recorded when the 39 migrants – aged between 15 and 44 – suffocated in “unbearable” conditions five days later.

Four men are currently on trial at the Old Bailey for various offences.

Lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Co Down, Northern Ireland, denies 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Alleged key organiser Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, denies 39 counts of manslaughter but admits conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Lorry driver Kennedy, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and driver Valentin Calota 37, of Birmingham, each deny conspiring to assist unlawful immigration between May 2018 and October last year.

The jury previously heard that four other defendants have already admitted their part in the alleged people-smuggling plot.

The trial continues.

Essex Live