A man recorded a final message to his wife and children, saying: “I’m sorry. I cannot take care of you”, as he suffocated in the back of a lorry with 38 other Vietnamese migrants, a court has heard.
Jurors in the Old Bailey trial in London of an alleged people-smuggling gang were told of attempts to raise the alarm as the 39 men, women and children ran out of air while being smuggled across the English Channel in a sealed container.
The Vietnamese nationals, aged between 15 and 44, were allegedly trapped in the trailer for 12 hours in temperatures of up to 38.5 degrees before they were found at Purfleet in Essex on on October 23rd, 2019.
The trial heard they may have died because “greedy” people smugglers attempted to do two loads in one.
Lorry driver Eamonn Harrison (23), of Mayobridge, Co Down, and Gheorghe Nica (43), of Basildon, Essex deny 39 counts of manslaughter.
Mr Harrison, Christopher Kennedy (24), of Co Armagh and Valentin Calota (37), of Birmingham, deny being part of a wider people-smuggling operation, which Nica has admitted.
The court has previously heard that four other defendants have already admitted their part in the people-smuggling plot.
Among them are Maurice Robinson (26) from Craigavon, who found the 39 migrants dead in the container after picking it up in Purfleet, and haulier Ronan Hughes (41), of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, who have admitted manslaughter.
Mr Harrison allegedly dropped off the container at the ferry port at Zeebrugge just before 2pm on October 22nd last year.
It was loaded onto the MV Clementine at 2.52pm, with the ship sailing 36 minutes late at 3.36pm.
By 6.25pm, the temperature in the trailer had risen to almost 35 degree.
The sweltering conditions were demonstrated in three selfies taken by victim Pham Thi Tra My (26) , which were shown to the court.
Just before 7pm, another victim, Nguyen Dinh Luong (20), attempted to call Vietnamese emergency services, dialling 133, but it did not connect.
Over the next few minutes, Pham Thi Tra My made repeated attempts to make calls on her mobile.
At 7.37pm, Nguyen Tho Tuan (25), recorded a message in Vietnamese for his wife, children and family.
“It’s Tuan. I am sorry. I cannot take care of you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I cannot breathe,” he said. “I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.”
In a mobile phone video recorded at 8.02pm, a voice says: “I can’t breathe....I can’t breathe. I’m sorry. I have to go now.”
In a second video file on the same mobile phone, recorded a minute later, the same voice repeats that he is sorry, and after a long pause adds: “It’s all my fault.”
Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones told jurors that a voice could be heard in the background of one of the recordings saying: “He’s dead.”
By 9.02pm the temperature in the trailer had allegedly reached 38 degrees
A forensic expert calculated it would have taken about nine hours for the air to turn toxic in the trailer, soon after resulting in death.
Jurors heard how Hughes had given Robinson instructions on what to do when he picked up the container at Purfleet.
In a Snapchat message, Hughes told him: “Give them air quickly but don’t let them out.”
Mr Emlyn Jones told jurors: “They were, of course, right to be concerned. However, they were much too late.”
Having picked up the container, CCTV showed Robinson park up, walk to the rear of the lorry and open the door slightly. He took a step back and stood there for 90 seconds before walking slowly back to his cab, the court heard.
Robinson did not call 999 until 1.36am, after driving around and speaking to Hughes.
Mr Emlyn Jones suggested the trip on October 23rd turned to tragedy because the smugglers simply got “too greedy”. – PA