Man pleads guilty to participating in human smuggling program that killed 39 Vietnamese migrants in truck


A man has admitted to playing a role in a human trafficking operation that ended in the suffocation of 39 Vietnamese men, women and children in a refrigerated truck trailer in Essex.

Dragos Stefan Damian, 28, was arrested in Italy and extradited in September to stand trial at London’s Old Bailey following the investigation into the deaths of the migrants.

In October 2019, truck driver Maurice Robinson found the bodies of the victims in the trailer he had transported from Zeebrugge, Belgium, to Purfleet in Essex, via a ferry.

Earlier this year, other members of the smuggling gang were jailed at Old Bailey for their involvement.

Damian appeared at the Old Bailey via video link from Chelmsford Prison on Tuesday and pleaded guilty – with the help of an Italian translator – to conspiracy to aid illegal immigration from May 2018 to October 2019 .

The 39 people who died trying to migrate to the UK

(Essex Police)

Prosecution attorney Jonathan Polnay said Damian’s main task in the plan was to pick up migrants and ‘clear’ others from Collingwood Farm in Essex as Vietnamese nationals arrive. UK.

The conviction has been adjourned until January 14 next year before Judge Sweeney.

Earlier this year, another gang member, Valentin Calota, 38, of Birmingham, was jailed for four and a half years and ordered to pay the families of the Vietnamese victims just over £ 1,000.

He had received £ 700 plus the cost of driving a migrant van from Essex to London days before the 39 dead.

Calota, who the court heard received £ 1,137.29 from the program, appeared at the Old Bailey for his HMP Huntercombe video link confiscation hearing and was assisted by a Romanian interpreter.

Mr. Polnay said: “The prosecution had considered submitting to this court the benefit was higher.

“However, given that we understand that Mr. Calota needs to be kicked out of this country fairly quickly, we consider that there is little or no benefit to an academic exercise in claiming that he had a higher advantage.”

Judge Mark Lucraft QC ordered that the entire sum of £ 1,137.29 be confiscated and paid as compensation to the families of the victims.

More gang members are set to face forfeiture hearings later this week.

Previously, the court had heard that the smugglers had won over £ 1million in October 2019 alone.

A total of seven contraband trips were identified between May 2018 and October 2019, with migrants paying up to £ 13,000.

The migrants would board trucks in a remote location on mainland Europe to be transported to the UK. They would then be picked up by cars to be taken to safe houses.

In January, four men were jailed – between 27 years and 13 years and four months – for manslaughter and planning human trafficking.

The men are Gheorghe Nica, 44, of Basildon, and Ronan Hughes, 42, of Armagh, and truck drivers Maurice Robinson, 27, of Craigavon, and Eamonn Harrison, 24, of County Down.

Three other gang members, including Calota, were also jailed for their role in the organized criminal operation.

Families of victims in Vietnam and the UK have spoken of the loss of loved ones.

The victims were 29 men and eight women – including 10 teenagers, with the two youngest boys aged 15.

Parents of a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman recounted how she texted them saying, “I’m dying because I can’t breathe.”

They revealed they paid around £ 30,000 in hopes their daughter could get to the UK from Vietnam.

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