Monaghan smuggler Ronan Hughes ran death truck operation

The extent of Ronan Hughes's role in the people-smuggling plot that led to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants can now be revealed. he ringleader was the operator of the lorry in which the migrants suffocated to death during a ferry journey from Belgium to England last October. He also booked the trailer onto the ship under a false cargo and provided the details to the crony who picked it up. At the Old Bailey on Friday, Co Monaghan man Hughes pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiring to assist illegal immigration between May 1, 2018, and October 24, 2014.

In April, Armagh co-conspirator and lorry driver Mo Robinson, who discovered the bodies, admitted 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist illegal immigration between May 1, 2018, and October 24, 2014, and acquiring criminal property. Following Hughes's guilty pleas, it can now be disclosed that he organised and financed the criminal enterprise smuggling people into the UK from Europe dating back to May 2018. The 40-year-old recruited Robinson and paid him GBP1,500 per migrant smuggled, according to court documents.

Robinson (25) used payments from the racket to bankroll a lifestyle beyond his modest trucker's wage, which included the purchase of an impressive GBP160,000 home and providing cash to an associate to set up in business. The fateful journey for the 39 Vietnamese migrants began in Dunkirk, France, with the trailer being driven to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium, arriving on October 22. When it boarded the MV Clementine, Hughes had falsely declared its cargo to be biscuits and the ferry set off on its nine-hour journey to Purfleet in Essex at 3pm.

The ship arrived at its destination at 12.30am on October 23 and the trailer was collected by Robinson using a pin code from the ferry company given to Hughes and passed onto him. By his own reckoning, Robinson expected to pocket around GBP58,500 for driving the lorry from the port to the pick-up point, but it never made it. He drove to the Westgate Industrial Estate in Grays, Essex, where he stopped to open the doors and discovered that the 39 occupants were dead.

They died because of a lack of oxygen, with hyperthermia also a possible factor as the temperature during the journey hit a high of 38.5 degrees celsius. Although the trailer was fitted with a refrigeration unit, this was not switched on and there was no other cooling of any kind. Along with frantic mobile phone calls to family made by those inside, bloody hand prints were also found on the trailer doors, suggesting some had made desperate attempts to escape.

In all 31 men and eight women died, with 10 of the victims in their teens and the youngest pair just 15. Prosecutors have evidence going back to May 9, 2018, when a lorry operated by Hughes was found to have 18 illegal migrants in the trailer. He has pleaded guilty to that offence.

Hughes further admitted to being responsible for another smuggling run on October 10 last year, with witnesses providing testimony that they saw a number of people, believed to be illegal migrants, get out of a trailer near a farm in Essex to be taken away by cars which had followed the lorry.

Belfast Telegraph

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