THE boss of a lorry firm involved in smuggling people into the UK has admitted the manslaughter of 39 migrants found dead in a lorry in Essex in October.
Ronan Hughes, 40 and of Co Armagh in Northern Ireland, was part of an international ring ferrying non-EU citizens into the country.
Today, he pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to the manslaughter of the 29 found dead in the back of a truck on an industrial estate.
Hughes also admitted conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration.
The bodies of the Vietnamese nationals were discovered on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, shortly after the container arrived in Purfleet on a ferry in the early hours of October 23 last year.
Among the men, women and children were 10 teenagers, two of them 15-year-old boys.
One of those who died in the lorry was 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My, who sent a series of harrowing texts to her mum in her final moments.
The messages read: “I can’t breathe.
“Mum, I’m very sorry.”
Hughes was one of several men accused of being part of a people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of the migrants.
An inquest heard their medical cause of death was asphyxia and hyperthermia – a lack of oxygen and overheating – in an enclosed space.
Prosecutors claim Hughes played a “leading role” in the alleged trafficking operation, with his trailers and drivers ‘used to transport migrants’.
Eamonn Harrison, 23 and of Mayobridge, Co Down, Northern Ireland, is alleged to have driven the lorry trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it sailed to Purfleet in England.
The defendant, who was extradited from the Republic of Ireland, is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Langdon Hills, Basildon, Essex, has previously denied 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, Christopher Kennedy, 23, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Gazmir Nuzi, 42, Barclay Road, Tottenham, north London, have denied being part of a people-smuggling operation, which it is alleged made two previous successful runs from the continent.
An eight-week trial has been fixed to start at the Old Bailey on October 5.
On April 8, lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to 39 counts of manslaughter.
He discovered the bodies after transporting the container from Purfleet to an alleged pick-up point in Grays, Essex.
The defendant also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration of non-European Union citizens between May 1 2018 and October 24 2019 and acquiring criminal property.
He denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.