In a trial in the United Kingdom, four men have been found guilty of being involved in an illegal migrant-smuggling operation which left 39 people dead. They join four more who pleaded guilty before trial. The victims, Vietnamese men and women aged between 15 and 44, were found dead on 22 October 2019 in a lorry container in the town of Grays in Essex. They died of oxygen starvation after being sealed in the airtight container for 11 and 3/4 hours. The international evidence used in the trial was the result of a joint investigation team (JIT) that was quickly set up between Belgium, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom, with the participation of Eurojust and Europol. The Netherlands also provided evidence to the trial.
According to the judgment, two men, one of whom drove the lorry from northern Europe to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, were found guilty today of 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. Two other men had already admitted the same offences before the trial began. One of them was the lorry driver who picked up the container from the cargo ship in the port of Purfleet and then drove it to Grays. A third lorry driver and another defendant were found guilty of people-smuggling offences today and two others previously pleaded guilty.
Soon after the discovery of the 39 bodies, it became evident that this case had a considerable transnational dimension. Therefore, the decision was taken to swiftly set up a joint investigation team. Judicial and law enforcement authorities have since worked closely together in this JIT to map the alleged criminal activity and to determine the possibility of finding cross-links to ongoing regional and local investigations of migrant smuggling activities.
The national authorities involved are Essex Police and The Crown Prosecution Service in the UK, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office of Belgium, OCRIEST (Central Office against illegal immigration and employment of undocumented workers) and JUNALCO (National specialised Jurisdiction against organised crime) in France, and the Garda National Immigration Bureau in Ireland.