Horrifying photos released by police show how some of the 39 Vietnamese migrants who were smuggled to death on the back of a truck while smuggling into the UK tried to create air holes with a metal rod.
The photos were released as those responsible for her death were convicted of manslaughter and people smuggling after a ten-week trial at the Old Bailey today.
Members of the millionaire people smuggling ring could be behind bars for killing the 39 migrants.
The Vietnamese men, women and children between the ages of 15 and 44 were found dead on a trailer in Essex on October 23 last year.
Photos from the trailer of the truck show grooves in the roof where some of the migrants tried to create air holes with a metal post so they could escape the stifling heat and suffocating conditions.
Meanwhile, an illustration created by the police has shown the extent of the cramped space and the piling up of bodies in the trailer when the terrible discovery was made.
The migrants had suffocated in stifling temperatures when the airtight container was shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.
The "unscrupulous" gang behind the illegal broadcast were greedily motivated as they targeted profits of more than £ 1 million that month alone.
After the ten-week trial, Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Basildon and truck driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from County Down were found guilty of 39 manslaughter today.
They have also been convicted of their involvement in the people smuggling operation involving truck driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh and Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham.
The beliefs come as follows:
- Home Secretary Priti Patel said the conviction had strengthened her determination to crack down on people smuggling rings
- According to a senior police investigator, thousands have worked on the investigation – one of the biggest homicide cases of all time
- A total of eight men have now been convicted of the deaths of Vietnamese migrants in Great Britain
- The timeline shows how complex the human smuggling ring has operated over the years and "dealt with human misery".
Six people have now been convicted after 39 men, women and children, ages 15 to 44, were found dead on the back of a truck when it stopped in Thurrock, Essex, after traveling from the UK to the UK last October Zeebrugge harbor
A photo with pole tracks in the truck trailer after migrants tried to drill air holes shortly before suffocating
A graphic used by the Essex Police showing the location of the 39 bodies found in a container truck in Grays, Essex
Eamonn Harrison (right) (23) from County Down and the Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica (left) (43) from Basildon were convicted of 39 manslaughter and involvement in a people smuggling ring at the Old Bailey
A timeline of events surrounding the tragedy of the truck death in Essex
– October 18: Kennedy picks up the trailer at 7:24 am and takes it to the same pick-up point in Orsett. Valentin Calota is one of the drivers Nica brought in to pick up the newcomers and drive them through the Dartford Junction in south east London.
In the evening, haulier Ronan Hughes, truck driver Maurice Robinson, Draghici and Nica, who are now carrying a heavy bag full of cash, meet at the Ibis Hotel in Thurrock.
– October 22: As of 5:47 a.m., five victims' phones will be used in Paris.
– Around 9 a.m., others were discovered on the Belgian border between Dunkerque and Lille.
– As of 9.21am, CCTV shows three taxis arriving in Bierne, northern France, followed by Harrison's trucks.
– Harrison's truck arrives at Zeebrugge port at 1:41 p.m.
– At 2:52 p.m. the trailer with 39 people between the ages of 15 and 44 is loaded onto the MV Clementine, which sails late at 3:36 p.m.
– At 7:37 pm, the young father Nguyen Tho Tuan recorded a message for his family: “It's Tuan. I'm sorry. I can't take care of you I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can not breathe. I want to go back to my family. Have a good life. & # 39;
– Between 9.42 p.m. and 10:42 p.m., the temperature in the trailer reaches a maximum of 38.5 degrees Celsius.
– Between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., the atmosphere is estimated to have reached toxic levels, killing all 39 victims.
– October 23: At 12:18 p.m. the Clementine docks in Purfleet.
– At 1:07 a.m., Robinson picks up the trailer about 12 hours after it has been sealed. He is instructed by Hughes on Snapchat to "give them a quick breath, not let them out".
Robinson drives out of Purfleet, stops and opens the rear doors. He stands for 90 seconds before getting back into the cabin.
– Starting at 1:15 a.m., Robinson drives around seven minutes before returning to the same location on Eastern Avenue. He opens the back doors again, calls Hughes for a minute and 42 seconds, and takes a minute-long call from Nica.
Within 15 minutes there is a flurry of phone calls between Hughes, Robinson, Kennedy and Nica leaving the Collingwood Farm area.
– At 1:36 a.m. Robinson calls 999 and asks for an ambulance.
– At 1:50 in the morning, the police arrived on site and found that Robinson looked "calm" at the trailer.
Later that morning, Kennedy texted a friend: "Must have been two and run out of breath."
Nica flies from Luton to Romania in the evening.
– October 24th: Draghici flies to Bucharest in Romania and remains at large.
– November 22nd: Kennedy arrested after stopping the truck he drives on the M40 in Oxfordshire.
– 7 February 2020 Nica is extradited to Great Britain under a European arrest warrant after her imprisonment in Frankfurt.
– March 14th: Calota arrested on arrival at Birmingham Airport from Romania.
– April 8: Robinson pleads guilty to 39 manslaughts at the Old Bailey.
– June 23: Hughes is extradited to Great Britain from the Republic of Ireland and pleads guilty of manslaughter in August.
– July 22: Harrison is extradited to the UK after being arrested on October 26, 2019 under the European arrest warrant in the Irish port of Dublin.
– Oct 5: Nica and Harrison tried at the Old Bailey for manslaughter. Harrison, Calota, and Kennedy are charged with participating in a major people-smuggling conspiracy admitted by Nica, Robinson, Hughes and two others.
– December 21st: You are convicted of manslaughter
The verdicts bring the total number of people convicted in the UK to eight, including Armagh haulier Ronan Hughes, 41, and Craigavon truck driver Maurice Robinson, 26, who admitted manslaughter.
The public prosecutor is considering charges against three other people.
The maximum sentence for people smuggling is 14 years in prison, with manslaughter associated with a possible life imprisonment.
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten of the Essex Police said the gang were "greedy" but "complacent".
He said, "They would not transport animals that way, but they were very happy to do so and put them at significant risk."
Since the tragedy, Essex Police have been at the forefront of fighting organized immigration crime, Stoten said.
Kelly Matthews of the Crown Prosecution Service said, “Thirty-nine vulnerable people desperately looking for a new life trust an unscrupulous network of people smugglers.
“Nothing can bring back the life lost that day or the loss caused by the horrific, illegal and dangerous acts of these defendants.
"However, we hope that these beliefs will bring some comfort to families when they know that justice has been done."
Rob Jones, director of threat leadership at the National Crime Agency (NCA), said, “The organized criminal groups involved in immigrant crime are persistent and treat migrants as a profitable commodity.
“Your only motivation is money. They don't care about the safety or the consequences of their actions.
Tragically, the consequences in this case were fatal. I am pleased that those responsible are now being held accountable for their actions.
"I hope this result brings some comfort to the families of the deceased."
Shaun Sawyer, NPCC Director of Organized Immigration Crimes, said: “The inhumanity these men have shown towards the 39 men, women and children who ultimately lost their lives is truly worrying.
& # 39; This year the Home Office has allocated additional funds to the police to help UK law enforcement agencies disrupt and prosecute these gangs.
"With this support and lessons learned from this investigation, we will continue our efforts to prevent such tragedies as this."
Old Bailey overheard the gang offering VIP service to Vietnamese migrants who gathered in Belgium and France.
They charged about £ 13,000 per capita to transport migrants in a trailer across the Channel Tunnel or by boat to Essex.
The network, run by Nica and Hughes, had been up and running for at least 18 months, despite repeated attention from authorities.
In May 2018, Harrison, the "man on the continent", was fined after being caught with 18 Vietnamese migrants in his trailer in the French Channel Tunnel.
On October 11th last year, 15 people were shipped in a container that was dropped off by Harrison in Zeebrugge and picked up by Kennedy in Purfleet.
They then boarded a fleet of vehicles in Orsett to be taken to Dulwich, where they were held by a Vietnamese named Phong, whose job it was to take the payment, the jury heard
Marie Andrews, who lives in Orsett, witnessed the drop and called the police to report her concern three times that day.
Three days later, Kennedy was stopped by French border guards at the Channel Tunnel.
He was dispatched after 20 migrants were removed from his trailer, two of whom were among the dead on October 23.
On October 17 last year, Harrison brought 15 migrants and a shipment of macaroons and Bakewell tarts to Zeebrugge.
Upon arrival, Kennedy dropped off the human cargo in Orsett and helped Hughes disguise the fact that the biscuits were trampled and crushed.
That night, Nica was caught on video surveillance with Hughes at an Essex hotel. He was carrying a bag containing £ 50,000 allegedly collected from Phong.
On the morning of October 22, Harrison picked up 39 migrants from Bierne, France.
Maurice Robinson's trailer and tractor unit after it was used as evidence in the homicide investigation
CCTV shows the police arriving at the point where Maurice Robinson (top right) found the bodies on the back of his truck
The people smuggling gang had several problems with the law before the truck tragedy
The human smuggling ring behind the deaths of 39 migrants has slipped through the web repeatedly in the UK and abroad.
They tried to stay under the radar for many months by using pay-as-you-go phones from “burners” and avoiding ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras.
On May 9, 2018, the truck driver Eamonn Harrison was sentenced to a civil sentence after he was caught with 18 Vietnamese migrants on waffle boxes in his trailer.
French border guards at the entrance to the Canal Tunnel had become suspicious after discovering that his trailer's seal had been broken and taped back together.
Just days before the tragedy, the gang successfully smuggled two loads of migrants on October 11 and 18.
Both times they were watched by suspicious residents of the Essex village of Orsett as the human cargo was being unloaded and people encountered vehicles waiting to be taken to Dulwich, south east London.
Then, on October 14, another driver, Christopher Kennedy, was caught with 20 Vietnamese nationals in his trailer on the French side of the Channel Tunnel.
The migrants were taken away by French border forces, but Kennedy was sent off to Kent.
On October 23, official stop documents were found among the personal belongings of two victims.
The successful run on October 18 also raised suspicions in a warehouse in Kent.
Hours before the migrants began their tragic journey, Estelle Duyke called Gendarmes in Bierne, northern France. About nine migrants jumped in the back of a truck that was later identified as the Harrisons.
But the trail turned cold after French police checked the shed where the migrants were hiding and found no one there, the jury heard.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper said Essex Police acted "reasonably and in good faith".
His trailer was loaded onto the Clementine ship, which left Zeebrugge at around 4 p.m. and docked in Purfleet shortly after midnight.
Robinson, who picked up the trailer at 1:08 am, was instructed by Hughes on Snapchat to "give them a quick breath, not to let them out".
When he opened the doors, a cloud of steam came out and Robinson stood up for 90 seconds.
In the 23 minutes before dialing 999, Robinson exchanged panicked calls with his boss Hughes and Nica, who had been waiting for him with his drivers in Orsett.
An emergency call from Robinson was played to the court saying, "You're all on the floor."
The operator asked: "Are you breathing?"
Robinson: No, I don't think so. I heard a noise in the background and opened the door. & # 39;
Operator: "How many patients?"
Robinson: "About 25."
Operator: "And you are not breathing?"
The first policeman on site described finding half-naked bodies "tightly packed together" in the trailer, some of which were "foaming at the mouth".
The court heard that all 39 victims at the scene were declared on the back of the lorry of the truck.
Cell phones recovered from the victims showed them trying to set off the alarm and left goodbye messages for their loved ones when they ran out of breath.
Others tried to punch a hole in the roof with a metal rod or to attract attention, the court heard.
Kennedy, Harrison and Calota, who were picking up migrants in Orsett on October 18, variously claimed they thought they were transporting cigarettes, alcohol and stolen truck parts.
Nica admitted being jailed for previous runs by convicted cigarette smuggler Hughes, but said he thought Robinson had a load of cigarettes when he showed him where to unload in Orsett the night before the tragedy.
But Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones told jurors the operation required "careful" planning and that every defendant should be "informed".
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This was a really tragic incident.
“While I am pleased that justice has been done, I know it will bring little comfort to the families of the deceased. My thoughts remain with those affected by this tragedy.
“Today's beliefs only strengthen my determination to do everything possible to track down the people smugglers who fall victim to the vulnerable and who deal in human misery.
The group of migrants came from five provinces in the central coastal area of Vietnam and two provinces near Hanoi
Nguyen Huy Hung (left), 15, was the youngest victim of the truck tragedy, while Nguyen Dinh Lurong (right), 20, also died
Questions and Answers: How the people smuggling gang was brought to justice
The investigation into the deaths of 39 migrants revealed one of the largest homicide cases.
Two of those involved in bringing the people smugglers to justice have shared their views.
– Who was behind the people smuggling ring?
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten of the Essex Police Department said: “The investigation has revealed that this is a fairly complex group of organized crime that is behind people smuggling.
"Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica were the organizers and the brains behind the crime team, and then they had a logistics corps of people involved in the transportation including Christopher Kennedy, Eamonn Harrison, Maurice Robinson and others."
– What made you do it?
Mr. Stoten said: “The motivation was purely financial.
“They were quite ready to endanger the health and safety of other people in order to fuel that greed.
“If you look at the victims and the former people who were transported to Britain, you wouldn't be transporting animals that way.
"But they (the smugglers) were very happy to do that and put them at considerable risk."
– What about the 39 Vietnamese nationals who died?
Kelly Matthews of the Crown Prosecution Service said, “This is an incredibly tragic case.
Thirty-nine vulnerable people, desperate for a new life, trust an unscrupulous network of people smugglers.
They died of lack of oxygen and tried desperately to escape from a sealed container.
"Many, when their plight became hopeless, sent messages to loved ones on their cell phones."
– How did that affect the officers who found the 39 bodies?
Mr. Stoten said, “The officers who participated in this incident for the first time did an excellent job.
“Almost all of the officers present were very young on duty, and it was likely the first time any of them had ever seen a deceased person.
"So to be met with 39 people … an absolutely terrible scene in front of them.
"I'm pretty sure this will stay with you for the rest of your career, and most likely for the rest of your life."
– Why were so many people in that particular trailer?
Mr Stoten said: “The crime group had an almost proven system of usually between 15 and 20 people and that worked for them.
& # 39; It's still dangerous, very dangerous.
“My personal view is that just before October 22nd, something happened which meant there were another 19 or 20 people who didn't come across as they planned, and out of greed, they decided to leave would put all in the container.
“They could have waited a week or two and then moved them in a less dangerous way, but they didn't because they wanted the money.
"So they put 39 of them in a container, knowing full well that it was an extremely dangerous thing to do."
– How much money did the gang make?
Mr. Stoten said, "Between £ 10,000 and £ 12,000 each, the lion's share of which would have gone to Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica."
Along with two successful runs on October 11 and 18 last year, around 80 people were smuggled into Britain, paying between £ 10,000 and £ 20,000 each – "a huge amount of money," he said.
– Is there any evidence that the gang got away with it longer?
"We have certainly seen evidence that they have been doing this for some time," said Mr Stoten.
"Their greed hasn't diminished, but their complacency has increased."
– Were there any missed opportunities to stop them?
Mr Stoten said police conducted a search after a resident of Orsett reported a drop in migrants on October 11 last year.
He said, “We actually responded to this pretty quickly, and some intelligence work was completed immediately, and that was related to an ANPR (automatic license plate recognition) search.
"Unfortunately the people had left the area."
– Did the tragedy lead to changes in police procedures?
Mr Stoten said, “In the future, not only have we changed Essex Police procedures, we have been a pioneer in changing the country's response to organized immigration crime.
“So when people are stopped and are in the back of trucks or vans, etc., we look at that.
"Most of the time, the driver is arrested and that hasn't happened before."
– How strong was the evidence in this case?
Four people pleaded guilty prior to the trial.
“I don't think they did that because they thought it was the right thing to do. They did that because the evidence against them is so difficult, ”said Stoten.
Ms. Matthews said, “There is significant evidence gathered from overseas and the UK to bring and prove the case.
"We were able to show that if you put people in a sealed container without being able to open it, there is a risk of harm, be it one person or 100 people inside."
– Do these beliefs end the case?
Ms. Matthews said, “There are a number of people who are still being prosecuted by Essex Police.
& # 39; The CPS is currently investigating three other people in the UK.
& # 39; Significant sums of money were also raised with this disastrous event.
"We are determined to follow up on any funds received and to ensure that no one benefits from this terrible tragedy."
– What about the international connection?
Ms. Matthews said: “There are various investigations and prosecutions from international partners across Europe in this criminal network.
"A number of people have been arrested and prosecuted by the Vietnamese in Vietnam."
There were eight convictions in Vietnam.
“I am determined to bring calloused people smugglers to justice and protect our communities from the actions of horrific organized crime groups.
“I would like to thank everyone involved in this investigation, particularly the Essex Police, NCA, prosecutors and Home Office operations teams, for their exemplary professionalism in prosecuting convictions.
"We are fortunate to be served by such outstanding, dedicated officials who help us protect ourselves and serve those most in need."
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, who was in charge of the investigation, said, “This story began nearly eight thousand miles away
Every man, woman and child, some of them only 15 years old, who died in the truck trailer came from Vietnam.
“They may have started their journeys at different times, but in the end they all followed false promises of a new life.
“They put their trust in people they hoped would bring them safely to our coast. But unfortunately their trip didn't end like that.
“Family members and friends, many thousands of miles away, have suffered an unimaginable loss.
“I know this because my Essex Police team heard their stories and carefully recorded their testimony firsthand.
& # 39; More than 1,300 people have worked on this case almost 14 months ago since our investigation began.
“And for Essex Police detectives, staff and volunteers, and others across the country, as well as national and international law enforcement agencies, governments and embassies, this will be a case we will never forget.
“I want to tell families that we are one step closer to bringing you the justice you deserve.
“It won't bring your loved ones back, but I hope it will provide some comfort. Our thoughts are with you today and always. & # 39;
Russell Tyner of the CPS Organized Crime Division said, “This is an unimaginably tragic case. Thirty-nine vulnerable people desperate for a new life tried to trust a network of unscrupulous people smugglers and suffered dire consequences – not through their own fault, but from the sheer greed of others.
They died of a lack of oxygen and tried desperately to escape from the container.
"Some were able to say their last words to their families on their cell phones when they knew their situation was hopeless."
Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst said: “This was an international tragedy that occurred here in our county.
“I said we had to come together as a community to help the police bring those responsible to justice, and that is exactly what we did and our armed forces did an excellent job.
“I would like to thank every police officer, firefighter, paramedic, employee and volunteer involved in this case, from the heartbreaking exposure of the crime to the arrest of those involved and in court.
“Nothing will ever bring these 39 people back, but I hope their families can take some comfort from the fact that our emergency services treated them and their loved ones with the respect and compassion they deserve and that they are working for justice for their memories. & # 39;
During the trial, the court heard that a couple had comforted each other when their dream of living in the UK in a dark, hot trailer slipped away.
Tran Hai Loc and Nguyen Thi Van, both 35, were still huddled together when they were discovered among the 39 dead on October 23 last year.
Their bodies were carefully removed from the trailer, still holding hands, and taken to the hospital together.
The couple had traveled by plane to Hungary for a month and a half after organizing placement through a labor company in Hanoi at a cost of US $ 7,000 (£ 6,000) each.
Their families last heard from them on October 18 last year when they called to say their plans had changed.
Four days later, she and the other men, women and children came to a pick-up point on the way to Zeebrugge in Belgium. One group came from Paris and another from Brussels.
Die Geschworenen im Old Bailey hörten, dass es einen 40. Migranten auf der Reise geben könnte, aber wegen der Tatsache, dass er zu spät zu seinem Rendezvous mit Eamonn Harrisons Lastwagen in Bierne, Nordfrankreich, kam.
Während der kanalübergreifenden Reise an Bord der Clementine hatte die Gruppe verzweifelt versucht, Alarm zu schlagen, und sogar die vietnamesische Notrufnummer angerufen, da ihnen die Luft ausgegangen war.
Als sie feststellten, dass im Trailer kein Handysignal vorhanden war, zeichneten einige Abschiedsnachrichten an ihre Familien auf.
Der 25-jährige Nguyen Tho Tuan sagte zu seiner Familie: „Es tut mir leid. Ich kann nicht auf dich aufpassen. Tut mir leid. Tut mir leid. Ich kann nicht atmen.
„Ich möchte zu meiner Familie zurückkehren. Hab ein gutes Leben.'
Mit einer Metallstange wurde versucht, durch das Dach des Kühlcontainers zu schlagen, aber es gelang nur, den Innenraum einzudellen.
Staatsanwalt Bill Emlyn Jones hatte gesagt: "Es gab keinen Ausweg und niemand, der sie hörte, niemand, der ihnen half."
Als die Polizei von Maurice Robinson auf den Tod aufmerksam gemacht wurde, stellte sie fest, dass die Migranten im Alter von 15 bis 44 Jahren halbnackt waren und vor dem Mund schäumten.
Sie waren lange genug tot gewesen, bis die Totenstarre eingesetzt hatte.
Der frühere Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore, der sich mit ihrer Identifizierung befasste, sagte: "Es war gelinde gesagt schockierend."
Er sagte, es sei wichtig, die Körper mit "Würde und Respekt" zu behandeln.
»Auf so schreckliche Weise zu sterben … Sie konnten nicht anders, als ein gutes Gefühl dafür zu haben, dass es dort keine Panik gab.
„Sie scheinen mit Würde und Respekt für einander gestorben zu sein, genau so, wie die Leichen gelegt wurden.
'Es gibt ein Paar, das sich an den Händen hält. Sie blieben während des Transports ins Krankenhaus zusammen und während der Obduktionen zusammen. & # 39;
Herr Pasmore sagte, dass das Sehen der Tragödie die Beamten betroffen habe und das Risiko einer posttraumatischen Belastungsstörung in seinem Kopf an erster Stelle stehe.
Es hatte auch einen "erheblichen Einfluss" auf die Familien in Vietnam, von denen viele Tausende Pfund geliehen hatten, um die Reise zu finanzieren.
Die Beamten bearbeiteten 391 Anrufe von betroffenen Verwandten, die Angehörige identifizieren wollten.
Pham Tra My (links und rechts) 26 gehörte zu den 39 Menschen, die im Lastwagen in Grays, Essex, starben
Der 26-jährige Fahrer Maurice Robinson (Bild), der die Todesfälle zum ersten Mal entdeckte, hatte bereits 39 Totschläge eingestanden
"Sie schäumten vor dem Mund": PC beschreibt den Horror-Moment, in dem er Leichen hinter einem Lastwagen fand
Ein Polizist beschrieb den Moment, als er die halbnackten Leichen von 39 Migranten entdeckte, von denen einige im hinteren Teil des Lastwagens „vor dem Mund aufschäumten“.
Pc Emerson sagte: „Ich konnte sehen, dass eine der Anhängertüren bereits geöffnet war, und ich konnte sichtbar zahlreiche halbnackte Körper im hinteren Teil des Anhängers sehen, die regungslos auf dem Anhängerboden lagen.
Ich näherte mich der Tür des Anhängers, um die Leichen weiter zu untersuchen, und als ich näher kam, stellte sich heraus, dass der gesamte Anhänger voller Leichen war und die Personen halbnackt zu sein schienen.
Die meisten von ihnen trugen Kleidung in der unteren Hälfte, aber alle schienen keine Kleidung in der oberen Hälfte zu tragen.
Alle Leichen schienen intakt zu sein, und meiner Meinung nach waren sie schon sehr lange nicht mehr dort.
"Es kam jedoch ein seltsamer Geruch aus dem Anhänger, der nach Chemikalien roch."
Pc Emerson sagte, er sei in den Wohnwagen gestiegen, um nach Lebenszeichen zu suchen, Impulse zu überprüfen und zu atmen.
Er sagte, die Leichen seien "dicht zusammengepackt" und hauptsächlich auf dem Rücken liegend.
"Aufgrund der Packung der Leichen im Anhänger war es nicht möglich, jede Leiche zu überprüfen. Deshalb habe ich versucht, die Leichen zu überprüfen, die ich erreichen konnte."
Er sagte, einige von ihnen schienen "aus dem Mund zu schäumen" und einige waren warm.
Das Gericht hörte, dass alle 39 Opfer am Tatort für tot erklärt wurden.
During the trial, jurors were provided with a snapshot of the victims and their dreams of a better life.
They included a bricklayer, a restaurant worker, a nail bar technician, a budding beautician, and a university graduate, who had worked in IT to save up and fund his own passage.
Their journeys across the world, via travel agencies in Vietnam, had included various stops in Russia, China, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Romania.
They would fly to one country, work there so they could build up cash reserves and send some money home, before then attempting the perilous journey to Britain.
Many of their families borrowed thousands of pounds to fund their passage, relying on their potential future earnings once they got in Britain.
Some of the migrants had made repeated failed attempts to be smuggled into the country, with one being turned back five times.
Witness X, a Vietnamese migrant who was smuggled by the gang on October 11 last year, provided an insight into why so many people were prepared to risk everything.
He was attracted to Britain partly because of the language.
Firstly, he had moved from Poland to France after getting a Schengen visa as a business student.
He then arranged his 'VIP' trip across the Channel through a Vietnamese connection on Facebook, who put him in contact with someone in Dulwich, south-east London, called Phong.
He got a taxi to a pick up point where he was ushered onto a trailer by the driver, who told them to go 'quickly' but 'keep quiet'.
Before arriving at Zeebrugge, the driver – said to be Eamonn Harrison – stopped once to provide them with water and further instructions, the court heard.
Inside the lorry trailer driven by Maurice Robinson where 39 Vietnamese migrants suffocated after being smuggled into UK
Video played to the court showed the moment officers arrived on scene in Essex and (inset) body cam footage shows an officer looking for signs of life inside the lorry. Driver Maurice Robinson called 999 after discovering the bodies in his lorry
Who has been convicted of what offences in the Essex lorry death case?
Eamonn Harrison, 23
- Guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter
- Guilty of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
Gheorghe Nica, 43
- Guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter
- Admits conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
Valentin Calota, 37
- Guilty of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
Christopher Kennedy, 24
- Guilty of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
Maurice Robinson, 26
- Admits 39 counts of manslaughter
- Admits conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
R.onan Hughes, 41
- Admits 39 counts of manslaughter
- Admits conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration
The migrants were provided bags to urinate in and told to huddle together in the centre of the trailer when they heard a signal.
After he arrived in Britain safely, witness X was made to stay at Phong's flat in Dulwich until his parents in Vietnam had transferred the £13,000 payment.
Asked what his plan was, the migrant told jurors: 'I'm going to go to the Home Office to apply for my papers.'
For every person successfully smuggled into Britain, the lorry drivers potentially pocketed £1,500, police said.
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten, of Essex Police, said: 'So you see this unacceptable disgusting trade was quite financially rewarding for these crime gangs.'
He said the 'scale and complexity' of the threat posed by the gangs and the 'callous nature of their business model' should never be under-estimated.
Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben Julian Harrington, said: 'The men who were found guilty today made their money from misery.
They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they didn't care.
They tried to hide what they were doing. They attempted to evade detection. They thought they could cover up their crimes. Today, they have been proved wrong on every count.
'While I am immensely proud of the Essex Police and our partners, for this diligent investigation, none of us will stop thinking of the victims and their families.
'Those family members are, in most cases, halfway across the world, and their lives will never be the same again.
'We will never forget those 39 victims men, women, and children – who were sold the lie of safe passage to our country.
'We made their loved ones a promise in the Book of Condolence shortly after the incident: that we would do everything in our power to bring those responsible for that horrific journey to justice.
'Essex Police has worked hard to deliver on our promise, and I hope that is of some small comfort.'
Who were the key players in the Essex lorry deaths case
Gheorghe Nica was the leader of the people smuggling ring
Romanian Nica was said to be the 'key organiser'.
A friend and ex-colleague of Irish haulage boss Ronan Hughes, he spent years working in Ireland and England as a lorry driver and mechanic.
The 43-year-old was also involved in the 'large scale' smuggling of cigarettes and whisky, according to Valentin Calota.
Nica, who knew the lorry yards in Essex well, paid Calota and others in the Romanian community cash in hand to drive migrants to London under his close supervision.
He also employed his Romanian friend Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, of Tilbury in Essex, who admitted his role in the gang.
Nica's senior management position meant he was trusted to look after the money, the prosecution said.
The divorced father-of-three, from Basildon in Essex, admitted involvement in two successful runs but denied he was a ringleader, pointing the finger at his Romanian friend Marius Draghici and Hughes.
The defendant, who had joint British citizenship, claimed he had been roped in to help while he awaited new passports.
Nica told jurors the family had decided to move back to Romania to get treatment for his young daughter who was born prematurely and suffered from cerebral palsy.
On October 23, he agreed to allow Maurice Robinson to unload near Collingwood Farm, assuming it was cigarettes or alcohol, he claimed.
Logistics boss Hughes had been a lorry driver before he set up his own haulage business, operating on either side of the Irish border.
In 2009, he was jailed for 30 months for smuggling some six million cigarettes from Calais to Dover.
He admitted evading revenue of around £927,000 and was sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court, it can now be reported.
A decade later, the 41-year-old married defendant, of Dalton Park, Armagh, Co Armagh, recruited a team of young Irish lorry drivers to take on the riskiest roles in the people-smuggling operation while directing them via burner phones.
He got his hands dirty on October 18 last year when he tried to cover up human contamination in a load of biscuits with Christopher Kennedy.
He knew there was a serious risk to the 39 migrants on October 22, telling lorry driver Maurice Robinson, who picked them up, to 'give them air quickly' – but not to let them out.
Hughes pleaded guilty to manslaughter and people-smuggling in August.
The 24-year-old lorry driver, from Newry, Co Down, was said to be Hughes' 'man on the Continent'.
On each of the three people-smuggling runs, it was Harrison who picked up migrants and took them in trailers to Zeebrugge in Belgium to be shipped to the UK.
Described in court as 'young, heavy-drinking and irresponsible', Harrison had struggled with ADHD at school and at the age of 18 followed in his father's footsteps and became an HGV driver.
In May 2018, he was handed a civil penalty notice after Border Force officials at Coquelles in France found 18 Vietnamese migrants sitting on boxes of waffles in his trailer.
Having been stopped twice in Germany in 2018 over driving incidents, in May last year he lost control of Hughes' lorry in Lower Saxony.
He was convicted of drink-driving and ordered to pay 855 euros (£768), which remains outstanding.
The crash meant Hughes had Harrison 'over a barrel' because he owed him thousands of pounds for the damage, jurors were told.
Harrison, who described being lonely on the road, claimed he did not know about the migrants in his trailer on any occasion, saying he thought he was helping to pick up 'stolen lorry parts' for Hughes.
He blamed others for loading the migrants into his trailer, saying he watched Netflix in his cab with the curtains down when the 39 migrants boarded.
But a migrant transported on October 11 said the driver had told them to huddle together before dropping them at Zeebrugge.
Harrison told jurors he was 'devastated' for the families of the victims.
'Team player' Kennedy, from County Armagh, was another of Hughes' drivers, even though his actual boss was Irish haulier, Caolan Gormley, who was arrested and released under investigation.
The 24-year-old's role was to pick up the human cargo at Purfleet docks and take them to Orsett for onward transfer to London on the two successful runs.
In between those trips, he was also caught with 20 Vietnamese people in his trailer at Coquelles in France on October 14 last year – two of whom ended up among the 39 dead days later.
On the day of the tragedy, it was Kennedy who Hughes called within seconds of finding out from Robinson that 39 migrants had died in one of his trailers.
And asked by a friend what he thought had happened, he said there 'must have been too many and run out of air'.
Growing up on a small holding in Keady, Kennedy felt the pressure of being the oldest of four siblings, particularly after his father had an accident and could no longer work.
But he racked up three driving offences from the age of 13 when he was caught behind the wheel of a tractor illegally.
It meant that, despite gaining his HGV licence at the age of 19, finding work was challenging.
In June last year, Mr Gormley, also from County Armagh, gave him a job driving goods around England for £550 a week.
Kennedy claimed he agreed to shift illegal cigarettes for 'extra cash' and did not realise there were migrants.
He became suspicious when he helped Hughes tidy up soiled biscuits on October 18 last year but said the haulage boss 'shrugged it off'.
The 26-year-old lorry driver, from Craigavon in Northern Ireland, found the bodies of the 39 migrants after he picked up the trailer they were in at Purfleet.
He admitted manslaughter, being part of the people-smuggling gang and acquiring criminal property.
Robinson was tasked with collecting the trailer on October 23 last year and was shown by Nica where to take it in Orsett the night before.
In the 23 minutes before he called 999, he exchanged a series of calls with Hughes and Nica, who in turn alerted other members of the team, including those waiting in Orsett.
When he spoke to Nica, he allegedly told him: 'I have a problem here – dead bodies in the trailer.'
When he finally rang 999, Robinson claimed he had found the bodies after he heard 'a noise in the back', even though the evidence suggested they had been dead for hours.
The hired helper, originally from Romania, was paid £700 by Nica to drive a van-load of migrants from Orsett to London on October 18 last year.
The 38-year-old had been living and working as a lorry driver in Bradford, Essex and Birmingham on and off for years.
Calota, who was single and left school at 16, often felt homesick and at times found it difficult to scratch out a living.
His precarious lifestyle led to two cautions in 2011 and 2015.
On July 1 2011, he tried to steal some clothes from Marks & Spencer and was cautioned for shoplifting.
On July 2 2015, he was cautioned for false accounting after he tried to pay for food and beer with a false Coinstar receipt in an Asda in Barking.
Calota knew about Nica's trade in smuggled cigarettes and alcohol, having met at a barbecue in Orsett in 2017, he said.
He claimed he was duped by Nica and he did not hear or see any migrants on the hour-long journey to London to deliver what he thought were cigarettes.
Calota told jurors: 'I should not have accepted involvement in any smuggling of cigarettes. I should have minded my own business and I'm very sorry and apologetic.'
CCTV footage obtained by police shows Eamonn Harrison dropping off trailer at port of Zeebrugge in Belgium on October 17
CCTV shows Christopher Kennedy in his lorry's cab arriving at the port of Purfleet in Essex
Maurice Robinson (left) and Ronan Hughes at an Ibis Hotel in Thurrock where they meet Nica
Lead investigator: 'Total greed' led to the worst ever manslaughter case in British legal history
Human trafficker Ronan Hughes was making up to £1m a month until 39 Vietnamese migrants suffered agonising deaths in the back of a lorry.
The 'total greed' and 'complacency' of the traffickers led to the worst ever manslaughter case in British legal history, DCI Daniel Stoten said.
They made enormous sums of money, with killer trucker Maurice 'Mo' Robinson, splashing some of his £100,000 on a refurbishment of his girlfriend's hair salon.
Hughes spent some of his millions on vast expanses of Irish land to add to his estate and hid the rest of the spoils.
The traffickers viewed the victims as 'commodities' rather than 'human beings,' said DCI Stoten, who led the Essex Police investigation.
But the fatal voyage, in which the smugglers crammed 39 people into the trailer in a mercenary bid to do two loads in one, was 'doomed to failure,' said DCI Stoten.
'The VIP option is more about getting them through successfully.'
'Clearly safety wasn't a particular concern to these people traffickers.
'We've seen that because they were willing to take absolutely unacceptable risks, by putting 39 people in a container.'
Describing the 'total greed' of the smugglers, DCI Stoten said: 'Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica were the heads of the operation, and the rest of them more logistical. They got the lion's share of the money paid.
'Hence why, when there was potentially a missed opportunity to bring people into the UK by doubling up the facilitation of 39 people, because they don't want to lose the money. Total greed.
'With people like Nica and Hughes they're career criminals and they've been brought up on crime. They've learnt to hide their money.
'Whereas with people like Robinson – he was a lorry driver just coming into the criminality and so we can see a much larger footprint financially for him.
'We can see about £100,000 going through his accounts.
'They all had their eyes wide open to what they were involved in and they all gained a huge amount of money from this and you can see this from Robinson's house and his salon. Huge amount of money.
'Hughes' family history is in the haulage industry. His dad runs a haulage company and him and his brother run separate haulage companies.
'Between 60 and 80 people that we know were brought into the UK in October. You're talking not far off £1m (made by Hughes) just for October.
'I don't know if they lost sight of the fact that they were human beings or they didn't care from the outset – these human beings were a commodity to them.'
Branding the killers 'merciless' DCI Stoten said: 'Even with the convictions it's not a cause for celebration.
'The starting point for this was an utter tragedy that will stay with everyone who was involved and I think we're just pleased to bring a sense of justice to the families, albeit they will never get over it.
'None of them have shown remorse. Merciless is the word I would use.'
The risks taken by the crime group responsible for the deaths of 39 migrants found in a lorry container in Essex were 'sadly not unusual', a senior Immigration Enforcement official has said.
Steve Dann, director of crime and financial investigations within the Immigration Enforcement unit at the Home Office, said people being trafficked were seen as a commodity, no different to drugs or tobacco.
'In relation to the risk, sadly the organised crime groups have complete disregard for the people, the commodity as they see it,' he said.
'Whether it's drugs or tobacco, this is just another commodity and they take no interest at all in the health and wellbeing of the migrants.
'I've seen some horrendous conditions, people being brought in.
'People have been brought in unresponsive because they're in a coffin-like hide within a vehicle or within a vessel, so sadly no this is not unusual.
'The numbers were high for a single incident but the crime groups, their methodology, they have complete disregard.'
The criminal gang brought the container into the UK through Purfleet port in Essex.
'I can't say whether they saw this (entry point) as a soft touch,' Mr Dann added.
He said that since the incident in October 2019, his agency has worked with colleagues in Zeebrugge in Belgium, where the container began its journey to the UK.
'We've increased our deployments of resources over in Zeebrugge. The same way in the UK we've increased our response,' he said.
'We've developed a multi-agency hub to develop intelligence, to share intelligence quicker, there's a number of different initiatives that have taken place with this.'
He said that the 'link hadn't been drawn' when French authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle migrants across the Channel on October 14, nine days before the 39 migrants were found dead on October 23.
On October 14, a vehicle driven by haulier Christopher Kennedy was stopped at Coquelles, near Calais in France, and 20 Vietnamese migrants were found in the back, the trial at the Old Bailey was told was told. They were frisked and taken away.
Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh had denied being part of the people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of 39 migrants.
'At that point the link hadn't been drawn,' said Mr Dann.
'He (Kennedy) was in, I think, it was a Transit van coming in through Coquelles.'
He went on: 'We have a joint intelligence cell with the French, so we do share intelligence daily and lots of intelligence as well.
'In relation to linking this, what we have to do with these incidents is start to develop the intelligence into an operation that allows us to identify the crime group behind it.
'Sometimes, depending on what we're faced with, it can be done immediately and we do an immediate response, other times it's about bringing different pieces of the jigsaw together to identify the crime group.'
He said his agency is 'making every effort to disrupt' crime groups and that Immigration Enforcement has disrupted 430 organised crime groups so far this year through arrests and preventative action.
'We see the threats move, it's quite an agile threat, crime groups are very agile,' he said.
'What we have to do is try to stay ahead of the game and be as agile as them.'
Who were the 39 people who died in the Essex lorry container?
These are the names of the victims of the Essex truck tragedy are:
Pham Thi Tra My, a 26-year-old woman from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Dinh Lurong, a 20-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Huy Phong, a 35-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Vo Nhan Du, a 19-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Tran Manh Hung, a 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Tran Khanh Tho, a 18-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Vo Van Linh, a 25-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Van Nhan, a 33-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Bui Phan Thang, a 37-year-old man from Ha Tinh
Nguyen Huy Hung, a 15-year-old boy from Ha Tinh
Tran Thi Tho, a 21-year-old woman from Nghe An
Bui Thi Nhung, a 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
Vo Ngoc Nam, a 28-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Dinh Tu, a 26-year-old man from Nghe An
Le Van Ha, a 30-year-old man from Nghe An
Tran Thi Ngoc, a 19-year-old woman from Nghe An
Nguyen Van Hung, a 33-year-old man from Nghe An
Hoang Van Tiep, a 18-year-old man from Nghe An
Cao Tien Dung, a 37-year-old man from Nghe An
Cao Huy Thanh, a 33-year-old man from Nghe An
Tran Thi Mai Nhung, a 18-year-old woman from Nghe An
Nguyen Minh Quang, a 20-year-old man from Nghe An
Le Trong Thanh, a 44-year-old man from Dien Chau
Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, a 28-year-old woman from Nghe An
Hoang Van Hoi, a 24-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Tho Tuan, a 25-year-old man from Nghe An
Dang Huu Tuyen, a 22-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Trong Thai, a 26-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Van Hiep, a 24-year-old man from Nghe An
Nguyen Thi Van, a 35-year-old woman from Nghe An
Tran Hai Loc, a 35-year-old man from Nghe An
Duong Minh Tuan, a 27-year-old man from Quang Binh
Nguyen Ngoc Ha, a 32-year-old man from Quang Binh
Nguyen Tien Dung, a 33-year-old man from Quang, Binh
Phan Thi Thanh, a 41-year-old woman from Hai Phong
Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, a 34-year-old man from Thua Tien Hue
Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, a 18-year-old man from Hai Phong
Tran Ngoc Hieu, a 17-year-old boy from Hai Duong
Dinh Dinh Binh 15-year-old boy from Hai Phong