Seven men involved in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants were sentenced on Friday by a UK court to a total of 93 years and eight months in prison.
The smugglers have been found guilty of manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men, women, and children who suffocated to death in the back of a refrigerated truck as they tried to make their way to Britain on Oct. 23, 2019.
Maurice Robinson, 26, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and acquiring criminal property before the trial. He was sentenced on Friday to 13 years and four months.
The Northern Irish man is one of the drivers of the lorry who found the bodies in Essex, England, when he opened the door to “give [them] some air.”
He later called the police and pretended he had not known there were people in the trailer.
Ronan Hughes, Robinson’s 41-year-old boss who led the conspiracy, pleaded guilty to all offences and was sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison on Friday.
Gheorghe Nica, 44, Hughes’ co-conspirator, was sentenced to 27 years in prison. He was found guilty last year of 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist illegal immigration following a ten-week trial at The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, alongside another driver, Eamonn Harrison.
Harrison, 24, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was the driver who loaded the migrants onto the airtight trailer and lock them in, before dropping the trailer at Zeebrugge, Belgium onto a ferry to England.
Christopher Kennedy, a 24-year-old lorry driver, was sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiracy to assist illegal immigration. He transported migrants for Hughes and Nica on Oct. 11 and Oct. 18.
Valentin Calota, 38, received four years and six months for his part in the conspiracy. Calota worked with Nica to transport migrants into London once they had arrived in Essex.
Another onward driver, 28-year-old Alexandru Hanga, pleaded guilty last April to a count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Chief Constable of Essex Police Ben-Julian Harrington, acknowledged the help from the public and other agencies in the investigation to bring justice to the victims.
“We’ve managed to convict those who did not have the decency of entering guilty pleas, despite the overwhelming evidence against them, and today, we’ve seen the sentences passed down and justice done,” Harrington said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and our prayers will always be with the families of the victims and we’ll continue to support them in any way we can.”
The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel also paid tribute to the victims.
“The pain and suffering endured by the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy is unbearable. They will always remain in my thoughts and prayers,” Patel said.
“The inhumanity of these callous people smugglers and their dangerous organised criminal networks has rightly been reflected in the sentencing today,” she added.
Matthew Long, deputy director of the National Crime Agency (NCA), said that the tragedy is a demonstration of how dangerous the organised people smuggling networks are.
“As a result of the callousness and greed of these individuals, 39 men, women, and children lost their lives in the most horrific of circumstances,” he said.
“The loved ones of those victims have to live with that every day, and I can only hope that with these sentences passed today they can at least feel that justice has been done.”
Long said the work doesn’t stop here for the NCA.
“There are undoubtedly other criminal networks out there who seek to exploit migrants in just the same way, without care for their safety, putting lives at risk day in, day out,” he said.
“Cases like this make us even more determined to do all we can to stop these gangs, and the NCA will continue to use the full range of tools at our disposal to disrupt and dismantle people smuggling networks impacting the UK, no matter where in the world they operate,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.