The driver of a truck found to be carrying 39 bodies appeared in a U.K. court via video link on Monday, charged with manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people.
The discovery of the bodies in the refrigerated truck on an industrial estate east of London, in Grays, has put a spotlight on the illicit global trade that sends poor people from Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.
Maurice Robinson, 25, who’s from Northern Ireland, spoke in Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, but only confirmed his name and address.
Robinson faces 39 counts of manslaughter as well as charges of conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering, police said.
“This involves a global ring facilitating the movement of a large number of immigrants into the U.K.,” prosecution lawyer Ogheneruona Mercy Iguyovwe told the court.
Robinson made no application for bail. He was remanded in custody until Nov. 25, when the case will continue at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, and he’s set to enter a plea.
The driver was arrested shortly after the discovery of the bodies in the early hours of last Wednesday, not far from the English port of Purfleet. The container had travelled from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
British police initially said the 39 were thought to have been Chinese, but it later emerged many were from Vietnam, where communities have been plunged into despair in the belief their missing loved ones are dead.
Trying to ID victims
Police have said few of the victims were carrying official identification and they hope to identify the dead through fingerprints, dental records and DNA, as well as photographs from friends and relatives.
The Vietnamese government said Britain had sent dossiers regarding four of the people found in the truck, seeking help in identifying them.
Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son told reporters: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is developing dossiers of possible victims, but until now there have been no grounds to confirm Vietnamese nationals are among the victims.”
It’s believed some of the victims hail from Vietnam’s northern rice-growing areas of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, two of the communist-ruled nation’s poorest provinces.
The family of 19-year-old, Bui Thi Nhung believe she’s among the 39.
Her family said she first left Nghe An on her journey overseas in August. She went to China first, before eventually making her way to Germany, then Belgium, where they believe she boarded the ill-fated truck.
About 70 per cent of Vietnamese trafficking cases in Britain between 2009 and 2016 were for labour exploitation, including cannabis production and work in nail salons, the British government said last year.
Nghe An was identified as home to many victims of human trafficking who end up in Europe, according to a March report by the Pacific Links Foundation, a U.S.-based anti-trafficking organization.
The other province, Ha Tinh, was ravaged by one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters in 2016 when a steel mill owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics contaminated coastal waters, devastating fishing and tourism there.