On The Door Inside The Shipping Container Which Became A Death Trap For The 39 Vietnamese Migrants Was Shocking Evidence Of The Last Desperate Moments Of Their Final Journey
On the door inside the shipping container which became a death trap for the 39 Vietnamese migrants was shocking evidence of the last desperate moments of their final journey.
There, on the sealed exit separating them from the safety of the outside world, were the bloody handprints of victims who had banged frantically in vain for help as oxygen was slowly sucked from the air and they realised they were probably going to die.
They also used a pole to scrape holes in the side of the container as they desperately sought air, or escape.
Surely few details encapsulate the visceral horror of this tragedy - or the wickedness of people trafficking - more than this.
After the banging had subsided, and all hope had gone, their thoughts turned to their loved ones on another continent.
Police at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays after the 39 bodies of Vietnamese migrants were found inside the lorry in October 2019
Victims had banged frantically as oxygen was slowly sucked from the air and they realised they were probably going to die (pictured: An illustration of the location of the 39 bodies)
The migrants used a pole to scrape holes in the side of the container as they desperately sought air, or escape (pictured)
Inside the lorry trailer driven by Maurice Robinson where 39 Vietnamese migrants suffocated after being smuggled into UK
'So sorry Mum,' is how 26-year-old Pham Thi Tram My, who wanted to work in the beauty industry in the UK, began the text message to her mother shortly before she lost consciousness.
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'My route to abroad does not succeed.
Mum, I love you so much. I am dying because I can't breathe. Mum, I'm very sorry.'
Victim Pham Thi Tram My, 26, pictured, wanted to work in the beauty industry in the UK
Can you imagine receiving such a message as a parent?
Other texts recovered from mobiles, typed in pitch-darkness, remained unsent because there was little or no reception in the living hell of that deadly metal box on the cargo deck of a ferry en route to Britain from Zeebrugge in the early hours of October 23 last year.
'Maybe we're going to die in the container, can't breathe any more,' were the last words typed to the husband of 28-year-old Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh.
Young father Nguyen Tho Tuan recorded a spoken message for his wife and kynghidongduong.vn children. 'It's Tuan,' he said.
'I am sorry. I cannot take care of you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I cannot breathe. I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.'
The wrenching farewells, in such truly terrible circumstances, are utterly heartbreaking.
The plight of the migrants reverberated around the world.
'There was no way out, and no one to hear them, no one to help them,' is how prosecuting barrister Bill Emlyn Jones summed up their predicament at the Old Bailey.
His words could have been the strapline for a harrowing film or TV drama.
In reality, the journey for the migrants, aged 15 to 44, ended in an industrial park in Grays, Essex where lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson had parked up after collecting his human cargo from the nearby Purfleet docks.
Nguyen Huy Hung (left), 15, was the youngest victim in the lorry tragedy, while Nguyen Dinh Lurong (right), 20, also died
Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, (left) and cousins Nguyen van Hung, tour hồ ba bể 33, (centre) and Hoang Van Tiep (right), 18, were among victims
Pham Tra My (left and right) 26, was among the 39 people who died in the lorry in Grays, Essex
Maurice Robinson's trailer and tractor unit after it had been taken into evidence as part of the manslaughter investigation
On the windscreen of his cab was an 'Ultimate Dream' sticker, a perverse reference to the fact the poor souls in the back of the Scania truck had come in search of a better life here in the UK and had paid upwards of £10,000 to be taken across the Channel.
The cause of death for the migrants was given as a combination of suffocation and overheating (pictured: Victim Nguyen Van Hiep)
Why did they die?
Because of the greed of the gang behind the operation - of which Robinson, from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, was a part - who had packed twice as many into the container to make up for a previous failed run, the court heard.
More people equals more money, after all - but much less oxygen.
It was a gamble ringleader Ronan Hughes was prepared to take. 'Give them air quickly but don't let them out,' he instructed Robinson, via text message.
When Robinson opened the trailer it was too late.
The gamble had failed. Bodies were piled up inside. Among the dead were three children and eight women.
Hughes, ostensibly the director of a haulage firm just over the border in southern Ireland, was making up to £1million a month trafficking migrants.
'The operation essentially became a bus service for migrants,' one lorry driver told us.
'There was a joke going round that you needed a bus licence, not an HGV licence, to work for Ronan Hughes.'
Hughes and Robinson had already pleaded guilty to manslaughter before the Old Bailey trial which ended in the conviction of four others yesterday, two for manslaughter and two for being part of a wider people-smuggling conspiracy.
The disaster exposed a back door into the country.
Belgium's ports, according to the National Crime Agency's annual strategic report last year, are now a 'greater focus for the activities of organised people smugglers', a consequence of security being stepped up in France, with Zeebrugge identified as a key embarkation point.
Video played to the court showed the moment officers arrived on scene in Essex and (inset) body cam footage shows an officer looking for signs of life inside the lorry.
Driver Maurice Robinson called 999 after discovering the bodies in his lorry
CCTV shows Eamonn Harrison dropping off a trailer at the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium on October 17 last year
CCTV shows Christopher Kennedy in his lorry's cab arriving at the port of Purfleet in Essex
Maurice Robinson (left) and Ronan Hughes at an Ibis Hotel in Thurrock where they meet Nica
The group of migrants were were from five provinces in the central, coastal area of Vietnam and two provinces near Hanoi
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In Vietnam, where there have been a wave of arrests in connection with the 39 fatalities, Asian-based traffickers call the last leg of the 6,000-mile trek to the UK the 'CO2' route.
<div class="art-ins mol-factbox news halfRHS" data-version="2" id="mol-e1ff1d00-442a-11eb-881d-e11621bd2201" website signs of desperate last struggle of 39 lorry migrants