Woman trafficked into Ireland for drugs trade had no proper translator during criminal case

Vietnamese woman was ‘detained in prison’ in Ireland, senior prisons inspector says

A Vietnamese woman who was trafficked into the Republic and then caught with about €1 million worth of drugs was not granted a proper translator service during the passage of her case through the Irish criminal justice system, a senior inspector at the Office of the Inspector of Prisons has said.

"We did manage to get her out of prison and she's now being supported by a law firm in Ireland and will now be seen as a victim of trafficking – I hope," Kevin Hyland said.

Mr Hyland added when the woman was being arrested she told gardaí she had been forced into involvement in the drugs trade. However, she did not know the identity of the men who had forced her.

Mr Hyland, who was also the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, set out the details of the case on Wednesday while addressing a virtual conference in Ireland on modern slavery and human trafficking.


Mr Hyland’s involvement with the Vietnamese woman’s case was unrelated to his current work as a senior inspector with the Office of the Inspector of Prisons. Indeed, his work on that case predated his appointment as a prisons inspector.

He said he learned of the case “just before Covid”, when the woman had been “detained in a prison” on charges related to the supply of drugs valued at €1 million.

“She was a Vietnamese woman, it was €1 million worth of drugs. She didn’t speak English, she went through the whole system without a proper interpreter,” he said.

“Her first words to the guards when she was arrested were, ‘I’ve been forced to do this, I don’t know who they are’, in very broken English,” added Mr Hyland, who was a police officer in the UK for 30 years and is a former head of the London Met’s human trafficking unit.

Mr Hyland added when the woman’s case went to court, the fact she was the victim of trafficking was discussed. It was decided the case would be dealt with promptly, he said, so any sentence could be served quickly, thus facilitating the woman in returning home without undue delay. However, if the woman had been sentenced and then returned home, she would be going “back to her traffickers”.

“The organised criminals behind [these crimes] – the ones who rented the premises, the ones who organised the €1 million worth of drugs – these are not Vietnamese nationals. Some of them, it’s believed, are foreign nationals and most of them are believed to be Irish nationals.”

Mr Hyland was addressing the Irish Security Series about the extent of modern slavery and human trafficking. The series was co-hosted by SAR Consultancy and University College Cork's department of sociology and criminology, and was funded by the British Embassy in Ireland.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times