Warrant for lorry driver wanted over Essex deaths ‘rushed’, court hears

A warrant issued to attempt to extradite a lorry driver wanted in connection with the deaths of 39 people in Essex was “rushed”, a court has heard.

Eamonn Harrison, 22, from Mayobridge in Newry, Co Down, appeared on Thursday in Dublin’s Central Criminal Court regarding a European arrest warrant to have him transferred to the UK.

The court heard Harrison is sought in respect of 41 offences, 39 counts of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, one count of a human trafficking offence and one count of assisting unlawful immigration.

Ronan Kennedy SC, appearing for the Minister for Justice, told the court that Harrison drove the lorry used to deliver a container to the port in Zeebrugge and was identified as the driver on CCTV in Belgium.

He went on to tell Justice Binchy, presiding, that Harrison signed the shipping notice for the container, which was later found in Essex with the bodies of 39 people inside.

Eight women and 31 men, all Vietnamese nationals, were found in the refrigerated trailer in an industrial park in Grays in the early hours of October 23.

Defence for Harrison, Siobhan Stack SC has raised a number of issues with the warrant for extradition.

“The fundamental defect is limited information,” she told the court.

She says that where and when exactly Mr Harrison committed his alleged offences is not listed or detailed, or the degree in which Mr Harrison was knowingly involved in any alleged trafficking.

Extra-territoriality was also raised by the defence as an issue, as any alleged offences against Mr Harrison would have happened in Belgium, however this is not mentioned in the warrant.

The warrant also states Mr Harrison is a British citizen, however the defendant says he was travelling on an Irish passport and is an Irish citizen.

It is understood the information received about Mr Harrison’s citizenship in the warrant was given to police by a family member who had got it wrong.

Ms Stack told the court the warrant has been “rushed”, adding there are “a number of ambiguities” in the warrant and the court “could not be satisfied for making order of surrender” on the basis of the warrant in its current form.

Bodies found in lorry container
Shipping containers at the port of Zeebrugge (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“He was travelling on an Irish passport and is an Irish citizen, the warrant says he is British and we’re going to have to amend that, nationality is critical,” she said.

She added Mr Harrison’s passport has been seized by Gardai in Dublin.

“In truth, very little factual narrative relates to Mr Harrison, all that is said is that he is alleged to be responsible for putting a unit on a lorry which travelled to UK,” Ms Stack added.

“In relation to manslaughter charges, involving the tragic death of these people, there is no information in the warrant as to when those deaths occurred.

“There is far from sufficient information in the warrant to say that such an offence occurred, the warrant gives no information whatsoever about the unfortunate people who were found dead on arrival in UK, that information at present is missing.

“I’m struggling to find a word for how limited the allegations are against Mr Harrison.”

Mr Kennedy SC conceded that there was “slight ambiguity” and some aspects of the warrant are “not entirely clear”.

Mr Harrison wore a grey sweatshirt, tracksuit bottoms and glasses, and did not speak throughout the proceedings, and rested his head on his hands for the majority of the hearing.

Justice Binchy has given both parties more time to seek additional information.

“This application should be decided on fullest possible information, and if there was an issue in which respondent thinks clarity is required, I would hope that’s not sprung on court at a later stage,” he said.

The new date for the hearing is now set for December 12, and is expected to last one day.

Justice Binchy, concluding the hearings, said: “Brexit looms large over all of this, not in this application alone, but I’m doing my utmost to have all requests from the UK disposed of before the end of this term, so I’m trying to achieve it in this case also.”

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