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Truck driver pleads guilty in smuggling plot that killed 39

Police drive the lorry container along the road from the scene in Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, Britain, on  October 23 2019. A total of 39 bodies were discovered inside. File Photo by Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE
Police drive the lorry container along the road from the scene in Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, Britain, on  October 23 2019. A total of 39 bodies were discovered inside. File Photo by Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE

April 8 (UPI) -- A truck driver pleaded guilty in London on Wednesday in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found dead in his refrigerated truck in 2019.

Maurice "Mo" Robinson of Northern Ireland was one of five people arrested in a global smuggling ring in October 2019. The arrests came after police in Britain's Essex county discovered the bodies of eight females and 31 males, including two 15-year-old boys, in the tractor-trailer Robinson was driving.

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He appeared in London's Central Criminal Court, the building known as the Old Bailey, by videoconferencing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Robinson previously pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration and acquisition of criminal property. On Wednesday, he admitted guilt in 39 charges of manslaughter. He pleaded innocent to a related charge of transferring criminal property.

Prosecutors requested a three-week continuance to decide whether to proceed with a trial. The other four defendants, who pleaded innocent to unlawful immigration charges, will have trials beginning in October.

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The trailer containing the immigrants was allegedly driven from an undisclosed location to the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, by Eamonn Harrison, an Irish national who is fighting his extradition from Dublin. He is wanted in Britain on human-trafficking and immigration charges, as well as 39 counts of manslaughter.

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The trailer was then delivered by ship to the British port city of Purfleet, where Robinson collected it and began transporting it. The discovery of the bodies came 35 minutes later, police said, in an industrial park in the Essex city of Grays.

Prosecutors allege that those in the trailer had been dead for at least 12 hours before they arrived in Britain. Their bodies were later cremated and returned to Vietnam.

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