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British court sends 4 to prison for 2019 lorry deaths of 39 migrants

By Jean Lotus
British court sends 4 to prison for 2019 lorry deaths of 39 migrants
Police remove a trailer that contained the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants who'd been smuggled into the country, in Grays, Essex, Britain, on October 23, 2019. File Photo by Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- A British court on Friday sentenced four people to prison, including the ringleaders of a human trafficking operation, for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who died after being smuggled into Britain in 2019.

Ronan Hughes, 41, operator of the hauling company involved, was sentenced to 20 years -- and Gheorghe Nica, 43, a Romanian lorry mechanic, was sentenced to 27 years.

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Both men, who prosecutors said were the ringleaders, pleaded guilty last year to 39 counts of manslaughter and other charges.

Two truck drivers involved in the smuggling were also sentenced Friday.

Eamonn Harrison, 24, was sentenced to 18 years and Maurice Robinson, 26, was given a little more than 13 years.

The Vietnamese migrants were found dead in the lorry at a port in Essex in October 2019. Prosecutors said Robinson waited 20 minutes before calling emergency services after finding them dead.

Prosecutors said at trial that Nica was the leader of a group that smuggled migrants from Asia into Europe. Trial records showed migrants paid more than $13,000 each to be smuggled into Britain.

The migrants -- men, women and children between the ages of 15 and 44 -- had been sealed inside the trailer unit for at least 12 hours. The trailer was supposed to be refrigerated, but wasn't. Temperatures inside reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, authorities said.

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Medical examiners said the victims, who ultimately attempted to escape the trailer, died of asphyxia or hyperthermia.

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