Essex migrant deaths: Armagh truck driver ‘part of global ring’, court told

Conspiracy charges relate to ‘movement of a large number of illegal immigrants into UK’

An artist courst sketch  of lorry driver Maurice Robinson (25) on video-link at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court in Essex. Photograph: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

An artist courst sketch of lorry driver Maurice Robinson (25) on video-link at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court in Essex. Photograph: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

 

A truck driver from Northern Ireland accused of the manslaughter of 39 migrants was part of a “global ring” involved in smuggling large numbers of people into the UK, a court heard on Monday.

Maurice Robinson (25), from Craigavon in Co Armagh, was arrested after the bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in the refrigerated trailer attached to his Scania cab in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, in the early hours of October 23rd.

Mr Robinson, known as Mo, appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Monday via video link.

His hearing coincided with British prime minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Thurrock Council Offices in Essex to sign a book of condolence to the victims.

The discovery of the bodies last week has sparked a huge international investigation to try and identify the victims.

Essex Police initially believed the 39 were all Chinese nationals, but Vietnamese men and women are now feared to be among the dead and other nationalities may be involved.

All of the bodies have now been moved from the truck in Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.

It is understood very few had identification documents, forcing investigations to rely on features such as fingerprints, scars and tattoos to try and trace their families.

Mr Robinson is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter of persons unknown, conspiracy to traffic people between December 1st, 2018 and October 24th, 2019 and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between the same dates.

The human trafficking charge and the unlawful immigration charge both relate to the 39 bodies found in the lorry.

He was further charged with one count of acquiring criminal property and one count of concealing criminal property, both between December 1st, 2018 and October 24th, 2019.

‘Global ring’

At Robinson’s brief court appearance, prosecutor Ogheneruona Iguyovwe described the conspiracy charges as relating to “a global ring” involving “the movement of a large number of illegal immigrants into the UK”.

The defendant was dressed in a grey prison tracksuit and spoke only to give his name, his address as Laurel Drive in Craigavon in Northern Ireland and his nationality as British.

Mr Robinson was not asked to indicate a plea and will next appear at the Old Bailey on November 25th for a plea and trial preparation hearing.

District judge Timothy King remanded Mr Robinson into custody, saying: “You have heard the nature of the allegations you face and the majority of these can only be dealt with in the crown court.

“I therefore allocate all matters to the Central Criminal Court on November 25th and you will be required to enter your pleas on that occasion.”

Mr Robinson’s solicitor Julian Hayes made no application for bail. –PA