Man Pleads to 39 Manslaughter Counts in Container Case

August 28, 2020 Updated: August 28, 2020

LONDON—A truck driver from Northern Ireland on Friday pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of 39 people found in the back of a container truck last year in southeastern England.

Ronan Hughes, 40, of County Armagh in Northern Ireland entered the plea at Central London Criminal Court. The victims, all of whom were Vietnamese, were found Oct. 23 in the back of a truck in an industrial park in the English town of Grays.

The scope of the tragedy became clear as police released the names and ages of those who died in one of Britain’s worst incidents of human smuggling.

Two of the dead were only 15, while the oldest was 44. About 20 of the victims came from one province, Nghe An, in north-central Vietnam.

Hughes also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between May 1, 2018, and Oct. 24, 2019.

Hughes appeared alongside 23-year old Eamonn Harrison also of County Down, Northern Ireland, who is alleged to have driven the truck’s trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it sailed to Purfleet in England.

Harrison pleaded innocent to 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and will face trial Oct. 5 with three others.

Gazmir Nuzi, 42, of Tottenham in north London, who appeared via video-link, pleaded guilty to a single charge of assisting unlawful immigration on or before Oct. 11, 2019, and April 18, 2020.

The pleas were not the first in the tragic case.

Another driver Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter in April. Robinson discovered the bodies after transporting the container from Purfleet to Grays.

In June, 28-year old Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga admitted to one count of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.