By Anthony Neeson
A County Armagh man has appeared in court in England charged with the manslaughter of 39 people who were found in a refrigerated lorry.
The bodies were found in the trailer in the early hours of last Wednesday morning in Essex. Police are still trying to identify the bodies. However, many of those who died are believed to have come from the same district in Vietnam.
Maurice Robinson from Laurel Drive in Craigavon was remanded in custody at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Monday. He appeared by video link and is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering.
He will appear in the Old Bailey in London on November 25.
Three other Irish people who were arrested in connection with the deaths have been released. A man in his twenties remains in custody after being arrested by Gardaí on Saturday at Dublin Port in connection with the investigation into the deaths of the 31 men and eight women.
Families in Vietnam have raised their concerns that their family members may be among the dead.
The family of Le Van Ha had borrowed to pay the human traffickers, with his father Le Minh Tuan, mortgaging two plots of land.
His families’ hope was that Le Van Ha would get a job in Britain and send money back to pay off the loan.
“He’s left us with a huge debt,” Le Minh Tuan told the BBC. “I don’t know when we can every pay it back. I’m an old man now, my health is poor, and I have to help bring up his children.”
One woman, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message home to her family on October 22. “I am dying,” it read. “I can’t breathe.”
The trailer where the bodies were found travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex.
GPS data shows that the refrigerated container left County Monaghan on October 15, crossed the Irish Sea by ferry to Wales and then continued on across the English Channel to continental Europe. Police say that the cab of the lorry travelled from Dublin to the UK on October 20 where police believe it collected the container just after 1 a.m. on October 23.
A half an hour later, police were called to an industrial estate where the bodies were discovered.