A British truck driver accused of manslaughter in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in a refrigerated vehicle, pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to assist undocumented immigration.
Maurice Robinson appeared via video link from the high-security Belmarsh prison in southeast London at the city’s Central Criminal Court and pleaded guilty to two of the 43 charges levelled against him.
The bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in a refrigerated trailer on an industrial estate in Grays, 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of central London, on October 23. The site is not far from docks on the River Thames.
The trailer had earlier arrived on a cargo ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Robinson, a 25-year-old from Northern Ireland, faces 39 charges of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.
Wearing a blue sweatshirt and talking to confirm his name, age and nationality, Robinson pleaded guilty to conspiring with others “to commit an offence of assisting unlawful immigration”.
He also admitted to acquiring “criminal property namely cash, which he knew or suspected, constituted or represented his own or another’s benefit from criminal conduct”.
Judge Andrew Eadis ordered that Robinson’s alleged coconspirators could not be named.
The truck driver did not enter pleas on the other charges, including the 39 counts of manslaughter, and is due to appear before the court again on December 13. No date has yet been set for a full trial.
A 23-year-old man from Northern Ireland was separately charged on Sunday with charges of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of people with intent to exploit and conspiracy to facilitate the commission of a breach of UK immigration law.
He is due to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court in England on Monday.
Some 20 of the victims came from one province – Nghe An in northcentral Vietnam, about 200km (120 miles) south of Hanoi. It is an impoverished region, where the main sources of income is fishing, farming or factory work.
The oldest of the victims was 44. Ten were teenagers.
Many families took on thousands of dollars of debt to send their children to Britain, in the hope they would land good jobs and send money back to pay off the loans. They have had to accrue further debt in repatriating the bodies of their loved ones.
The incident has laid bare the dangers of undocumented migration in Britain, where Vietnamese nationals have often found work in nail bars or illegal cannabis farms.