Essex lorry deaths: Christopher Kennedy charged with human trafficking over 39 deaths

Man from Northern Ireland accused of arranging travel to UK ‘with a view to exploitation’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 24 November 2019 11:07 GMT
Eight arrested in Vietnam over migrant lorry deaths

Update: Essex police have confirmed that no further action will be taken against Christopher Hughes

A man has been charged with human trafficking offences after 39 migrants died in a lorry trailer found in Essex.

Christopher Kennedy, a 23-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was arrested in Buckinghamshire on Friday.

Essex Police said the Crown Prosecution Service has authorised charges of conspiracy to arrange the travel of people with a view to exploitation, and conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law.

Mr Kennedy, of Darkley in County Armagh, will appear at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

The bodies of 39 people were found in a lorry trailer in Grays, Essex, on 23 October after it arrived in Purfleet from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

It was picked up by a cab that had been driven from Northern Ireland.

Maurice Robinson, a 25-year-old lorry driver from Northern Ireland, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering. He is expected to appear at the Old Bailey on Monday.

A second man, Eamonn Harrison, 22, was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, along with human trafficking and immigration offences, after being arrested in Ireland last week. Essex Police have started extradition proceedings to bring him to the UK.

Detectives have also urged Ronan Hughes, 40, and his brother Christopher, 34, said to have links with the road haulage and shipping industries, to hand themselves in for questioning.

Police have identified the dead as Vietnamese nationals. There were three teenage boys, eight women and 28 men.

The Dutch government confirmed on Friday that one of the teenagers had previously stayed at one of its asylum centres.

The country's Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers told local media the youngster had run away from a shelter for vulnerable migrants.

One of the women who died, 26-year-old Pham Tra My, sent a text on the night of 22 October saying she was suffocating.

“I am really, really sorry, mum and dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed,” she wrote. “I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much.”

Ronan Hughes (right), 40 and his brother Christopher Hughes, 34, both from Armagh in Northern Ireland, are wanted by Essex Police (Essex Police)

Her father, Pham Van Thin, said smugglers had claimed the route to Britain was safe and involved travel by planes and cars.

The Vietnamese and British government are discussing repatriation of the victims.

Prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered investigations into alleged human trafficking in Vietnam, following years of warnings by British authorities over the use of Vietnamese modern slaves in UK cannabis farms and nail bars.

Assistant chief constable Tim Smith, who is leading the investigation, said: “We are working with national and international partners to get answers for the friends and family of those who died and bring all those responsible to justice.”

Migrants have been found in lorries and containers in several other recent incidents.

Sixteen people were discovered in a sealed trailer on a ferry sailing from France to the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, 25 stowaways were found in a refrigerated container on a cargo ship sailing from the Netherlands to Felixstowe.

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