A smuggler admitted his involvement in a lucrative criminal enterprise that resulted in the deaths of 39 migrants.



Central Criminal Court stock


© AP Archives
Central Criminal Court stock

Dragos Stefan Damian, 28, was extradited from Italy in UK court following the inquest into the deaths of Vietnamese men, women and children.

The bodies of the victims were found in a refrigerated truck trailer after being transported by ferry from Zeebrugge to Purfleet in Essex in October 2019.

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



HMP Chelmsford (Andrew Parsons / PA) (PA Archives)


© Provided by Evening Standard
HMP Chelmsford (Andrew Parsons / PA) (PA Archives)

Damian was arrested on June 10 just outside Milan and returned to Britain in September.

On Tuesday he appeared at the Old Bailey via video link from Chelmsford Prison.

With the help of an Italian interpreter, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to aid illegal immigration between May 1, 2018 and October 24, 2019.

Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay said Damian’s main involvement in the plot was “personally and allowing others to use his van to pick up migrants” at Collingwood Farm in Essex after they were transported to the country.

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



The 39 victims: (top row from left to right) Dinh Dinh Binh, Nguyen Minh Quang, Nguyen Huy Phong, Le Van Ha, Nguyen Van Hiep, Bui Phan Thang, Nguyen Van Hung, Nguyen Huy Hung, Nguyen Tien Dung, Pham Thi Tra My, (second row from left to right) Tran Khanh Tho, Nguyen Van Nhan, Vo Ngoc Nam, Vo Van Linh, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, Vo Nhan Du, Tran Hai Loc, Tran Manh Hung, Nguyen Thi Van, Bui Thi Nhung, (third row from left to right) Hoang Van Tiep, Tran Thi Ngoc, Phan Thi Thanh, Tran Thi Tho, Duong Minh Tuan, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, Le Trong Thanh, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, Hoang Van Hoi, (bottom row from left to right) Tran Ngoc Hieu, Cao Tien Dung, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, Dang Huu Tuyen, Nguyen Dinh Luong, Cao Huy Thanh, Nguyen Trong Thai, Nguyen Tho Tuan and Nguyen Dinh Tu (Police Essex / PA) (PA Media)


© Provided by Evening Standard
The 39 victims: (top row from left to right) Dinh Dinh Binh, Nguyen Minh Quang, Nguyen Huy Phong, Le Van Ha, Nguyen Van Hiep, Bui Phan Thang, Nguyen Van Hung, Nguyen Huy Hung, Nguyen Tien Dung, Pham Thi Tra My, (second row from left to right) Tran Khanh Tho, Nguyen Van Nhan, Vo Ngoc Nam, Vo Van Linh, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, Vo Nhan Du, Tran Hai Loc, Tran Manh Hung, Nguyen Thi Van, Bui Thi Nhung, (third row from left to right) Hoang Van Tiep, Tran Thi Ngoc, Phan Thi Thanh, Tran Thi Tho, Duong Minh Tuan, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, Le Trong Thanh, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, Hoang Van Hoi, (bottom row from left to right) Tran Ngoc Hieu, Cao Tien Dung, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, Dang Huu Tuyen, Nguyen Dinh Luong, Cao Huy Thanh, Nguyen Trong Thai, Nguyen Tho Tuan and Nguyen Dinh Tu (Police Essex / PA) (PA Media)

Previously, another gang member, Valentin Calota, had been ordered to pay the families of the victims more than £ 1,000.

Calota was paid £ 700 plus the cost of driving a migrant van from Essex to London days before the fatal race.

The 38-year-old from Birmingham was jailed for four and a half years earlier this year.

Calota appeared at the Old Bailey for his HMP Huntercombe video link confiscation hearing and was assisted by a Romanian interpreter.

The court heard that Calota benefited from his criminal lifestyle in the amount of £ 1,137.29.

The money in pounds sterling, euros and Romanian leu had been seized by police during his arrest.

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 criminal operation was long-standing and profitable, with smugglers expected to earn over £ 1million in October 2019 alone.

A total of seven contraband trips were identified between May 2018 and October 23, 2019, with migrants paying up to £ 13,000 for ‘VIP’ service.

The migrants would board trucks in a remote location on the mainland to be transported to Britain where they would be picked up by a fleet of smaller vehicles to be transferred to a safe house until payment is received.

Some of the trips were thwarted by border officials and residents of Orsett, Essex, had repeatedly reported migrants being dropped off at police.

However, the smuggling operation was not stopped until after the tragic trip.

Families of victims in Vietnam and Britain have already spoken of their loss and hardship.

Sign up for one of the Evening Standard newsletters now. From a daily press briefing to home and property information, lifestyle, outings, deals and more. For the best stories in your inbox, click here.


Source link