Four men were given lengthy jail terms on Friday for the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men, women and children who suffocated to death in a stifling, airtight shipping container in 2019 as they tried to make their way to Britain.
The discovery of so many dead people – some as young as 15 – in the back of the truck on an industrial estate to the east of London shocked Britain and Vietnam, and shone a spotlight on the illicit global trade that sends the poor of Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.
As oxygen levels fell, some tried desperately to escape, but in vain. Others used mobile phones to say their last farewells to devastated relatives on the other side of the world.
At London’s Old Bailey criminal court on Friday, four men involved in the people smuggling gang were jailed after they admitted or were found guilty of manslaughter and immigration offences.
The leader of the conspiracy 41-year-old Ronan Hughes was jailed for 20 years while another major figure Gheorghe Nica, 44, was sentenced to 27 years behind bars.
Maurice Robinson, 26, who was driving the truck when the bodies were found, was jailed for 13 years while Eamonn Harrison, 24, who drove the container to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge from where the victims were taken to Britain, was given an 18-year sentence.
“The pain and suffering endured by the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy is unbearable,” British interior minister Priti Patel said. “They will always remain in my thoughts and prayers.”