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New arrest in case of smuggling deaths of 39 Vietnamese

The lorry in which 39 people suffocated to death. © PA/Belga

Police in Italy have arrested a man in connection with the deaths in 2019 of 39 Vietnamese victims of human traffickers who had been brought from Zeebrugge to Purfleet in the UK.

The victims had been transported from Vietnam, and ultimately transferred to the back of a refrigerated lorry at Zeebrugge, before the lorry was taken by ship to Purfleet in Essex.

They were found dead in the back of the lorry by the new driver who had come to take them to their destination.

Medical examiners said the victims had died an excruciating death, running rapidly out of oxygen and fully conscious of what was happening to them. Some of them beat on the interior insulated walls of the refrigerated cabin, while others tried to send messages to loved ones.

The trial heard how the youngest of the victims were two boys aged only 15. Each of the migrants had paid the equivalent of €15,000 to be transported to the UK.

Four men have already stood trial in the UK for their involvement.

Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica were jailed for 20 and 27 years respectively as leaders of the conspiracy, and sentenced on 39 counts of manslaughter.

Two lorry drivers, Eamonn Harrison, who brought the trailer to Zeebrugge before the crossing to the UK, was sentenced to 18 years for manslaughter. Maurice Robinson who collected the trailer from Purfleet and opened it on the nearby Grays industrial estate to find the migrants dead, was sentenced to 13 years and four months.

Three other members of the gang were given sentences ranging from three to seven years for criminal conspiracy.

According to the BBC, the latest suspect is Dragos Damian, aged 27, who was arrested on an international warrant by Italian police working with the British National Crime Agency. He has been charged with “conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence,” the BBC said.

He will appear in court with a view to being extradited to the UK.