Vietnamese migrant deaths in UK lorry spark 26 arrests

Pham Thi Tra My and Nguyen Dinh Luong
Image caption Pham Thi Tra My, 26, and Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, were among the victims

An operation in Belgium and France prompted by the death of 39 Vietnamese in a lorry in the UK in 2019 has led to the arrest of 26 people.

A UK report found the migrants all died from asphyxia and hypothermia in the lorry found in the county of Essex.

Thirteen arrests were made around Brussels and 13 around Paris, the EU’s police co-ordination body said.

It said the suspects had probably “transported up to several dozen people every day for several months”.

The EU’s Agency for Criminal Justice Co-operation (Eurojust) said police had carried out cross-border raids on Tuesday morning in an operation that involved four nations – the UK, France, Belgium and Ireland – along with Europol.

It said the suspects were allegedly part of an organised crime group.

“These co-ordinated arrests are a strong signal to migrant smuggling groups that judiciary and law enforcement communities in the EU are joining forces to detect, investigate and prosecute this kind of serious organised crime,” Eurojust said.

Old Bailey hearing

A number of people had earlier been arrested in connection with the deaths, including several in Vietnam.

The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, pleaded guilty last month to 39 counts of manslaughter.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The 39 dead included two 15-year-olds and eight other teenagers

At the same hearing at London’s Old Bailey, co-defendant Gheorghe Nica denied 39 counts of manslaughter. Another three men charged with other offences in connection with the deaths also appeared via video-link.

A trial on remaining charges is scheduled to begin on 5 October.

The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered at an industrial estate soon after the lorry arrived in the UK on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.

Among those who died was 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My, who sent her family a message on 22 October saying she could not breathe and her “trip to a foreign land has failed”.

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