Harrowing CCTV caught moment trucker finds 39 migrants dead in airtight lorry

CCTV shows the harrowing moment 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in the back of an airtight lorry trailer that was a toxic and sweltering “tomb”.

In the video, trucker Maurice Robinson, 26, parks up and opens the right-hand door as steam pours from the back of the HGV container in Grays, Essex, just after 1am on October 23 last year.

Just minutes earlier, Irish haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, sent a Snapchat message telling Robinson to “give them air quickly, but don’t let them out”.

The video was shown during the trial of four men who were found guilty on Monday. Two were convicted of manslaughter.

After opening the door, lorry driver Robinson spends some time on his phone before getting back into his cab and driving off, only to return to the same avenue, where he called 999 some 23 minutes after finding the bodies.

The Old Bailey heard the distressing 999 call in which Robinson tells an operator the trailer was “jammed” with bodies.

The migrants – 28 men, eight women and three children aged between 15 and 44 – had suffocated as the sweltering trailer became a “tomb” with the temperature reaching an “unbearable” an 38.5C (101F), the Old Bailey was told.

CCTV shows Robinson pulling open the right-side door – revealing the bodies – as the first Essex Police officers arrive minutes later.

Jurors heard that the migrants were sealed inside for at least 12 hours as the container was shipped from Zeebrugge, Belgium, to Purfleet in Essex.

The prosecution alleged the carbon dioxide inside the trailer had reached its toxic threshold about three hours before the doors were opened.

The distressing video was shown during the trial of four men who were accused of being involved in an international smuggling ring.

Ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Basildon, in Essex, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, from County Down, Ireland, were found guilty on Monday of 39 counts of manslaughter.

They were also convicted of their part in the people-smuggling operation with lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham.

The verdicts bring the total number of people convicted in Britain to eight, including haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson, of Craigavon, who admitted manslaughter.

Prosecutors are considering charges against a further three people.

The maximum sentence for people-smuggling is 14 years in prison with manslaughter carrying a possible life sentence.

Harrison drove the trailer to the Zeebrugge ferry port, the court heard.

During their harrowing final moments, some of the trapped migrants tried to batter their way out with a pole while others used their phones to write heartbreaking messages to loved ones.

The court heard that Nguyen Tho Tuan, 28, told his wife, children and mother: “It’s Tuan. I am sorry. I cannot take care of you.

“I am sorry. I am sorry. I cannot breathe. I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.”

The prosecution alleged an international crime ring stood to make up to £1 million a month smuggling people into Britain, charging between £10,000 and £13,000 a person.

The court heard Robinson found the bodies at about 1.13am when he pulled over and opened the container on an industrial estate.

Just minutes earlier he received a Snapchat message from his boss, Hughes, saying “give them air quickly, but don’t let them out”, jurors were told.

Robinson responded with a thumbs-up emoji.

He opened the trailer door, took a step back and stood for 90 seconds before closing the door and getting back into the cab and driving off.

The court heard he spoke to Hughes and Nica by phone and drove in a loop before returning to the avenue where he had opened the door moments earlier.

Nica told jurors that Robinson had called him and said: “I have a problem here – dead bodies in the trailer.”

About 23 minutes after finding the bodies, Robinson finally dialled 999 at 1.36am.

Asked if the patients were breathing, he said: “No. There, there’s loads of them, there’s immigrants in the back but they’re, they’re all lying on the ground.

“I went and lifted a trailer from Purfleet, the freight terminal, and I got around to where I was gonna park up for the night and I heard a noise in the back and I opened the door and there’s a bunch of them lying.”

When an operator asked how many people were in the trailer, Robinson said: “The trailer is jammed. I don’t know.”

PC Jack Emerson, one of the first officers on scene, told the court the migrants were “closely packed” and “half naked” as they lay motionless on the floor of the trailer.

He told the court: “Most of them were wearing clothes on their lower half but they all appeared to not be wearing any clothing on their upper half.

“All of the bodies appeared intact and it was in my opinion that they had not been there for a very long period of time as there was not any visible sign of decomposure.

“There was however a strange smell coming from the trailer that smelt like chemicals.

There was also smoke condensation coming from the rear of the trailer which suggested to me that the trailer was refrigerated.”

Jurors were told the temperature inside the trailer reached a maximum of 38.5C sometime after 9pm.

The court heard that between 10pm and 10.30pm the carbon dioxide (CO2) inside the trailer had reached its toxic threshold, though the prosecutor said that was not agreed evidence.

The prosecution alleged there were two successful people-smuggling runs on October 11 and 18 last year, before the trip that ended in tragedy on October 23.

Cell site data suggested some of the alleged plotters were in the area of Orsett, Essex, at the time migrants were allegedly transferred from trailers for onward transportation to south-east London on the earlier occasions.