UK policeman recalls finding Vietnamese migrants half-naked and motionless

By AFP   October 28, 2020 | 08:32 pm PT
UK policeman recalls finding Vietnamese migrants half-naked and motionless
British police officers near the truck found to be containing 39 dead bodies in Grays, east of London, on October 23, 2019. Photo by AFP.
A British police officer on Wednesday recounted how he tried to find signs of life after the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants were discovered in a container truck.

Constable Jack Emerson said he saw a trailer "full of bodies" when he first arrived on the scene in the early hours of October 23 last year after an emergency call-out.

But he told a London court he was unable to check if all of those inside were still alive, as they were "closely packed" in the back of the truck.

"I approached the door of the trailer to further inspect the bodies and it became apparent as I got closer that the entire trailer was full of bodies, and the individuals appeared to be half-naked," he said.

"Most of them were wearing clothes on their lower half but they all appeared to not be wearing any clothing on their upper half."

Emerson got inside the trailer and began checking pulses and breathing of the "motionless" bodies on the floor.

"Due to how packed together the bodies were in the trailer, it was not possible to check everybody, so I made an attempt to check the bodies I could reach," he added.

Most of the victims were lying on their backs, some appeared to be frothing from the mouth, and some still warm, he told jurors.

Truck driver Maurice Robinson, 26, was arrested at the scene and has pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter.

He had collected the sealed container from the southeast English port of Purfleet after it arrived on a cargo ship from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Post-mortem examinations found the migrants, who included two boys aged 15, had suffocated to death in unbearably high temperatures during the journey.

The court has heard how some tried to contact their loved ones back in Vietnam, attempting to send anguished text and audio messages as they struggled to breathe. They were unable to get a phone signal inside the container.

Prosecutors said Robinson waited 23 minutes before alerting police, after making the grim discovery on an industrial estate east of London.

Haulage firm boss Ronan Hughes, 41, has also admitted 39 counts of manslaughter.

But Eammon Harrison, 23, who is said to have driven the truck to Zeebrugge, and Georghe Nica, 43, both deny the same charges.

Harrison, Valentin Calota, 37, and Christopher Kennedy, 24, deny being part of a people-smuggling conspiracy, but Nica has admitted that charge.

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