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Essex lorry deaths: People smuggling gang jailed for killing 39 Vietnamese migrants | UK News

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The main members of a people smuggling gang have been given long jail sentences after 39 Vietnamese illegal immigrants suffocated in the back of their lorry.

Defence lawyers had argued that none of the smugglers had known there were so many men, women and children crammed into the sealed trailer.

The victims died when they ran out of air in temperatures of up to 38.5C (101F), as the trailer was shipped from Belgium to Purfleet docks, Essex, in October 2019.

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Victims treated as a ‘commodity’

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Essex lorry deaths: What happened?

Two of the gang had admitted 39 manslaughter charges, while two more had been convicted of the same crimes after a 10-week trial late last year.

Haulier Ronan Hughes, 41, from Ireland, was a ringleader who supplied lorries and drivers over 18 months and was paid £3,000 for each migrant who arrived safely.

He admitted manslaughter and people smuggling and was jailed for 20 years.

Lorry driver Maurice Robinson is seen leaving Purfleet port in Essex after collecting the trailer containing the migrants
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Maurice Robinson discovered the bodies, but it took him 23 minutes to call for an ambulance
Ronan Hughes has pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter
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Haulier Ronan Hughes, 41, was a ringleader who supplied lorries and drivers

His lawyer said he usually smuggled 25 migrants in one operation and did not know there were 39 in the doomed trailer until it was too late to save them.

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He had sent lorry driver Maurice Robinson, who collected the trailer at Purfleet, a Snapchat message reading: “Give them air quickly, don’t let them out.”

Robinson, 26, said he thought there were no more than 20 inside.

He opened the doors and discovered the bodies, but it took him 23 minutes to call for an ambulance.

The driver’s lawyer said he was “criminally unsophisticated” and did not appreciate the risks involved.

Robinson, from Northern Ireland, had admitted manslaughter and people smuggling. He was jailed for 13 years and four months.

Eamonn Harrison has denied killing the 39 migrants
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Eamonn Harrison was convicted of 39 counts of manslaughter
Gheorghe Nica pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of the migrants
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Gheorghe Nica was also found guilty of the manslaughter of the migrants

Another lorry driver, Eamonn Harrison, 24, had picked up the migrants in northern France and driven them to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, where he delivered the trailer for the ferry ride to Essex.

He had denied manslaughter and people smuggling and claimed during his Old Bailey trial that he thought he was smuggling stolen lorry parts.

He claimed he was told to park up and hide when the migrants were loaded into his trailer and had no idea how many were on board.

A message sent from Ronan Hughes to Maurice Robinson said: 'Give them air quickly don't let them out'
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Ronan Hughes sent a message to Maurice Robinson on Snapchat

His lawyer described him as “a somewhat inadequate young man” who had followed orders and would bear responsibility for the rest of his life.

Harrison, from Northern Ireland, was convicted of manslaughter and people smuggling and jailed for 18 years.

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Moment lorry driver found dead migrants

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police arrive at lorry filled with bodies

Gheorghe Nica, 43, had supplied cars and drivers to transfer migrants from the lorries to a safe house in south London.

He had denied manslaughter, but admitted being involved in previous smuggling operations and was jailed for 27 years.

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Nica’s lawyer said he did not know how many migrants were in the trailer and suggested haulier Ronan Hughes was more of a ringleader than he was.

Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay told the judge at an earlier hearing that both Hughes and Nica were leading figures in the smuggling operation, but added: “Whether or not the full picture will ever be known – was it a strictly hierarchical organisation with people based in different countries, or was it different organised criminals working in a chain? – is not clear.”

Three others connected to the crime – lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, from Essex, and Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham – were jailed for seven years, three years, and four-and-a-half years respectively.

Christopher Kennedy was jailed for seven years
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Christopher Kennedy was jailed for seven years
Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga was jailed for three years
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Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga was jailed for three years

In total, seven men were sentenced to more than 92 years in prison.

Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said the migrants died “what must have been an excruciatingly painful death” after the temperature in the container approached 40 degrees Celsius (104F) while it was at sea.

He told the Old Bailey he had “no doubt” the “conspiracy was a sophisticated, long-running, and profitable one to smuggle mainly Vietnamese migrants across the channel”.

The judge added that the operation “amounted to professional, organised crime, largely using unregistered phones, committed for a profit motive, which significantly undermined the United Kingdom’s attempts to regulate and control immigration”.

Valentin Calota was jailed for four-and-a-half years
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Valentin Calota was jailed for four-and-a-half years

Ben-Julian Harrington, chief constable of Essex Police, said it had been the biggest investigation in the force’s history.

“Every person in that trailer had left behind a family,” Mr Harrington said. “They had been promised safe passage to our shores and they were lied to. They were left to die, all because of the greed of the men who have been sentenced today.”

He added that the families had “put their trust in us to deliver justice”.

“I promised them that we would, and my teams have done just that,” Mr Harrington said.

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‘Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart’: Pope’s message to packed Erbil stadium | World News

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Pope Francis has said Mass to thousands of people in the packed Franso Hariri stadium in Erbil.

At the end of the last official event before he returns to Rome on Monday, Francis told the crowd: “Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart.”

He closed by saying “salam, salam, salam [peace, peace, peace]”.

Pope Francis in Mosul - on the third day of his historic tour
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Pope Francis in Mosul – on the third day of his historic tour

Earlier, The Pope led prayers in Mosul – a former stronghold of terror group Islamic State.

He flew in by helicopter and was greeted by crowds in the decimated northern Iraqi city, where just a handful of Christian families now live.

Thousands of Christians fled the area during the IS occupation, where they were faced with conversion, death, or paying a tax for non-Muslims.

On the way to the venue, he stopped by the ruins of homes and cathedrals that had been destroyed by IS violence, to hold a moment of silence.

He then took part in the service from a once-bustling city square, surrounded by the ruins of several damaged churches, which were destroyed when IS overran the area in 2014.

The papacy visited an area that was ruined by IS during their occupation
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The Pope visited an area that was ruined by IS during its occupation

“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – forcibly displaced or killed,” he told the crowd.

“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”

Pope Francis added that hope could not be “silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction”.

In prayer, he said: “If God is the God of life – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his name. If God is the God of peace – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to wage war in his name.

“If God is the God of love – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis releases a white dove during a prayer for war victims at 'Hosh al-Bieaa', Church Square, in Mosul's Old City, Iraq, March 7, 2021. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
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A white dove is released in a sign of peace

He concluded the prayer saying: “To you we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters; we also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy.”

A white dove was also released by Pope Francis, to symbolise peace – a running theme for his papal visit.

In 2014, in Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi gave a sermon in an extremely rare public appearance, where he announced the IS caliphate.

Mosul was liberated in July 2017 after a brutal three-year regime of terror in the city, that left an estimated 9,000-11,000 people dead.

Pope Francis arrives to hold a minute of silence at the destroyed cathedral
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Pope Francis arrives to hold a minute of silence at a destroyed cathedral

The Vatican hopes that Pope Francis’s appearance in Mosul will encourage Christian communities to stay in the area, despite years of violence and persecution.

The Pope visited one of the most influential Muslim leaders in the world on Saturday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, where the men discussed the issues facing Christian communities in the country.

Following the meeting, al Sistani said he wanted Muslims and Christians to coexist in Iraq, and called on other religious leaders to hold great powers to account and for wisdom and sense to prevail over war.

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Myanmar protests: Demonstrators ‘fired on’ amid funeral of political organiser said to have died in custody | World News

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Witnesses have said police have opened fire on protesters in Myanmar, amid reports at least one political organiser from the democratically elected government’s party has died in custody.

Several people were wounded in the historic temple city of Bagan, according to witness accounts and videos on social media, while demonstrations were held in at least half a dozen other Myanmar cities.

Residents in the southeastern city of Dawei said soldiers and police moved into several districts overnight, firing shots. They arrested at least three people in Kyauktada Township, residents there said.

Protesters create a shield formation in Nyaung-U, in a still image taken from a video obtained from social media
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Protesters create a shield formation in Nyaung-U

One protest leader said to the crowd in Dawei: “They are killing people just like killing birds and chickens. What will we do if we don’t revolt against them? We must revolt.”

A ward chairman from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party was found dead in a military hospital on Sunday morning by people who lived in his Yangon neighbourhood, according to a post on Facebook by NLD MP Sithu Maung.

Several on social media speculated that U Khin Maung Latt, 58, died after being beaten in custody after being taken from his home, but no official cause of death was immediately announced.

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Reuters news agency said it saw a photograph of his body with a bloodstained cloth wrapped around the head.

Another Facebook poster said he had been arrested on Saturday in 30th Street in Pabedan Township.

There were emotional scenes in Yangon as his funeral was held in accordance with Islamic tradition later on Sunday.

At least three protests were held in Yangon, despite overnight raids by security forces on campaign leaders and opposition activists, and video posted by media group Myanmar Now showed soldiers beating up men.

Meanwhile, police fired tear gas to break up a sit-in demonstration by tens of thousands of people in Mandalay on Sunday.

Protesters run away from tear gas in Mandalay
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Protesters run away from tear gas in Mandalay

Security forces continued to crack down on many of the other protests, which have erupted following last month’s coup.

The United Nations says more than 50 people have been killed by security forces since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February.

A junta spokesman did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The state-run Global New Light Of Myanmar newspaper reported that police said security forces were dealing with the protests in accordance with law.

Protesters set up a makeshift shield formation in preparation for potential clashes in Yangon
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Protesters set up a makeshift shield formation in preparation for potential clashes in Yangon

More than 1,700 people have been detained by the police and military in Myanmar, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group said. The latest figure did not include overnight detentions.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s authorities claimed an activist who was shot dead could not have been killed by police because the wrong sort of projectile was found in her head.

They had exhumed the body of 19-year-old Kyal Sin, who died during the protests in Mandalay on Wednesday wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK”.

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Moment nun stands up to Myanmar military

State-run MRTV said a surgical investigation showed she had been shot from behind, while police were in front.

Photographs taken on the day showed her head turned away from security forces moments before she was killed.

Opponents of the coup accused the junta of attempting to cover-up their responsibility.

Protesters have demanded the release of Ms Suu Kyi and that military leaders respect the result of November’s election – which her party won in a landslide.

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Myanmar soldier points gun at hidden resident

The army has said it will hold more elections at a date in the future yet to be set.

Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe, hired by Myanmar’s junta to act as a spokesman, told Reuters the military leaders want to leave politics and improve relations with the United States and to distance themselves from China.

He said Ms Suu Kyi had grown too close to China.

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Equatorial Guinea: At least 20 killed in series of explosions at military base | World News

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At least 20 people have been killed after a series of large explosions at a military base in the city of Bata in Equatorial Guinea.

The cause of the blasts is not yet known but reports on the TVGE news channel suggested authorities had ruled out an attack.

TVGE called on people to donate blood and said hospitals in the Central African nation were full of people injured in the explosions.

In the blast area, iron roofs were ripped off houses and lay twisted amid the rubble.

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