A lorry driver charged with manslaughter over the deaths of 39 people in a refrigerated trailer was part of a ‘global ring’ to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK, a court heard today.
Maurice "Mo" Robinson, of Laurel Drive, Craigavon in Northern Ireland, appeared, dressed in a grey prison tracksuit, via videolink at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.
The bodies were discovered in a trailer compartment in the early hours of Wednesday on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex.
At his first court appearance on Monday, prosecutor Ogheneruona Iguyovwe described the conspiracy charges as “a global ring” involving “the movement of a large number of illegal immigrants into the UK”.
He was remanded in custody and will next appear at the Old Bailey on November 25 for a plea and trial preparation hearing.
Essex Police also confirmed that a man arrested in Dublin by Irish police over an unconnected matter on Saturday "is a person of interest" in their investigation.
A spokesman said: "We are liaising with the Garda via telephone as this man is currently held outside the jurisdiction of the law of England and Wales."
Three other people arrested in connection with the deaths have been released on bail, Essex Police said on Sunday.
Detectives are now working on the largest mass fatality victim identification process in the force's history.
Police initially said the victims were Chinese, although a number of Vietnamese families have described how they fear their loved ones are among the dead.
Some of the victims are said to have paid thousands of pounds to traffickers to guarantee their safe passage to the UK, from where they would be able to carry out work that would give them money to send home.
Detectives are also investigating a "wider conspiracy" after claims surfaced that the lorry could have been part of a convoy of three carrying about 100 people.
The family of a young Vietnamese woman thought to be among the dead said she dismissed their pleas not to travel.
Pham Tra My, 26, has not been in contact with her family since sending a final text message home on Tuesday saying she could not breathe.
Relatives of Ms Tra My told the BBC they have not been able to contact her since she sent a text on Tuesday night saying she was suffocating.
"I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed," she wrote.
Her father, Pham Van Thin, told Sky News: "We tried to talk her out of it because it would be a very difficult journey for her as a girl.
"But she said: 'If I don't go, the family would stay in a very difficult situation because of the big debt'. So she took a risk and decided to go, and we had to agree."
ITV News said more than 20 of the victims were from Vietnam, including Nguyen Dinh Tu, a 26-year-old whose father said he was supposed to get into Europe to work "in a nail bar" to help pay off family debts.
Bui Thi Nhung, a 19-year-old, is also thought to be among the victims. Her brother, Bui Thi Ding, told ITV News: "Nhung would have done any job she could over there. We are so poor here, we barely have enough food to eat, and our father has died. She wanted to go to England to help our elderly mother."