39 deaths: driver admits assisting illegal immigration

By Nguyen Quy   November 25, 2019 | 05:41 am PT
39 deaths: driver admits assisting illegal immigration
Police and forensic officers investigate a truck in which 39 bodies were discovered in the trailer, as they prepare move the vehicle from the site. Photo by Reuters.
The driver of the refrigerated truck in which 39 Vietnamese people were found dead last month has pleaded guilty to assisting illegal immigration, but rejected manslaughter charge.

Maurice Robinson, 25, of Northern Ireland, allegedly part of a global smuggling ring, admitted to assisting unlawful immigration between May 1, 2018 and October 24, 2019 and being paid for it.

However, he pleaded not guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter during his court appearance in London Monday.

The defendant was remanded to custody until a further hearing on December 13.

The bodies of 31 men and eight women, all of them Vietnamese, were discovered in a refrigerated container truck at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex County, east of London, on October 23. The youngest victim was 15 years old and the oldest was 44.

British police have so far arrested six people for their involvement in the disaster. Another accused, 23-year-old Christopher Kennedy, also of Northern Ireland, has been charged with human trafficking and was due to appear in court Monday.

In Vietnam, police have arrested 11 people, nine in the central province of Nghe An and the two others in neighboring Ha Tinh Province, for suspected involvement in human trafficking.

The bodies of the 39 victims are still in the U.K. Vietnam is discussing with U.K. authorities the technical issues in the transferring of their remains.

The Vietnamese government has decided to make advance payments to make sure the victims are brought home as soon as possible. It will cost $1,771 to receive the victim’s ashes and $2,855 for the bodies to be brought back in coffins.

Most families want the bodies of loved ones repatriated, and a few have opted for ashes.

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