Migrants discovered in French lorry check days before fatal run, court told

An “orchestrated check” on a lorry at the mouth of the Eurotunnel in France led to the discovery of 20 Vietnamese migrants, some of whom were allegedly found dead days later.

On October 23  last year, 39 migrants suffocated in a sealed trailer as they were transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex, the Old Bailey has heard.

Prosecutors have claimed people smugglers might have made a fatal decision to double up the human cargo after a previous cross-Channel run was foiled by authorities on October 14.

Jurors heard how investigators had used GPS and mobile phone data to retrace the movements of haulier Christopher Kennedy in the hours before the discovery of 20 foreign nationals in his lorry at Coquelles near Calais.

Earlier that day, Kennedy, located in northern France, had received nine texts coinciding with the time messages were sent by haulier boss Ronan Hughes in the Republic of Ireland, jurors heard.

At 11.50pm, Kennedy was stopped by officers at the mouth of the Eurotunnel at Coquelles and the 20 Vietnamese nationals were found in the back of his trailer, the court heard.

A general view of the Central Criminal Court in the Old Bailey, London (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)
A general view of the Central Criminal Court in the Old Bailey, London (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

After the migrants were intercepted by French authorities, Kennedy continued on his way to Kent.

Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay read a statement by French officer Maxime Saison, who was on duty in Coquelles that night.

The officer said he was “advised by our local management of an orchestrated check testing positive on a heavy goods vehicle based at the Boulevard des Flandres at Coquelles on the fixed cross-Channel link at Coquelles which gave officers to believe there were individuals inside the trailer.

“These officers took us to see 20 people found hidden in the Bulgarian heavy goods vehicle … driven by Christopher Kennedy.”

Mr Saison said the lorry heading towards Great Britain made its last stop at Transmarck.

The migrants did not speak French but made it known that they were foreign nationals, he said.

Speaking in English, they confirmed they were Vietnamese nationals and had no documentation with them, according to the officer.

Mr Saison said the migrants were frisked and taken away without restraint.

Kennedy is not accused of being involved in the transportation of migrants on the tragic October 23 run.

The 24-year-old of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, denies being part of a people-smuggling conspiracy with fellow haulier Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Mayobridge, Co Down, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham.

Alleged key organiser Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, has admitted the conspiracy but denies 39 counts of manslaughter with Harrison.

Jurors have heard that four others have admitted a role in the people-smuggling ring, including haulier Hughes and another lorry driver Maurice Robinson, who discovered the bodies.

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