The trial begins in Bruges today of 13 men accused of transporting 39 Vietnamese people to the United Kingdom in the back of a lorry, during which they suffocated. There were no survivors.
The court will also judge ten taxi drivers, most of them from Brussels, who were responsible for transporting the refugees to Zeebrugge to take the ferry to England. The taxi drivers are of Belgian, Moroccan and Armenian nationality.
The events took place in October 2019, when a lorry driver contacted emergency services in Essex to report the presence of 39 dead bodies in the back of a lorry he was contracted to pick up from the ferry.
Inside, the emergency services discovered the bodies of 39 people, including a 15-year-old, who had been smuggled onto the ferry and thus to England. The dead were discovered to have suffocated, a conclusion confirmed on examination of mobile phones in their possession, on which they had, in their last moments, recorded messages for their families.
The investigation led police to the smugglers, organised in a network in Belgium and the UK, and led by 45-year-old Vo Van Hong, who rented a house in Anderlecht where the victims would stay until they could be transported. He is suspected of 40 smugglings since 2018, all of which his lawyer says he denies.
The taxi drivers, meanwhile, not only transported the migrants between safe houses in Brussels, but also took them to the lorry park in northern France where they would be packed into a lorry for the sea crossing.
The families of the victims, meanwhile, are reported to have paid up to €11,000 for the transport of their loved ones.
Four men have already been tried in the UK and given heavy sentences for their part in the transport. The Northern Irish truck driver who took the lorry onto the ferry was sentence to 18 years; another driver got 13 years and four months. Two other men received 20 and 27 year sentences.
Four other men have still to be delivered to Belgium for trial later. Two have yet to be extradited; the other two are fugitives.