Driver pleads guilty over 39 Vietnamese truck deaths

A second defendant pleads not guilty to the counts of manslaughter.

    The truck carrying the shipping container in which the 39 Vietnamese people were found dead was discovered in Grays, Essex, the United Kingdom [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]
    The truck carrying the shipping container in which the 39 Vietnamese people were found dead was discovered in Grays, Essex, the United Kingdom [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

    Maurice Robinson, a truck driver from Northern Ireland, has pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter related to the deaths of Vietnamese people found in a shipping container in southeast England last year.

    The victims, 31 men and boys and eight women, were discovered in October in a container at the back of a truck driven by Robinson to an industrial estate in Grays in Essex, about 20 miles (32 km) east of central London. The trailer had earlier arrived on a cargo ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

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    The eldest of the deceased was aged 44. Two were aged just 15. Most were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, where poor job prospects, environmental disasters and the promise of financial reward fuel migration.

    Robinson, 25, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing in November to charges of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring cash that he knew or suspected came from criminal conduct.

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    At Wednesday's hearing at the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court, a second man who was also charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, British-Romanian dual national Gheorghe Nica, pleaded not guilty, the BBC reported.

    Several others have been arrested and charged in both Vietnam and the United Kingdom, and other legal proceedings are ongoing.

    Autopsies concluded that the provisional cause of death of the 39 Vietnamese people was a combination of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, and hyperthermia, or overheating, in an enclosed space.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency