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Four defendants involved in UK truck tragedy sentenced to varying prison

September 15, 2020 | 14:44

Four people sentenced for trafficking Vietnamese to the UK in a case that claimed the life of 39 people in a refrigerated truck near London last year.

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(From L) Nguyen Quoc Thanh, Tran Dinh Truong and Nguyen Thi Thuy Hoa stand trial in Ha Tinh, September 14, 2020.
(From L) Nguyen Quoc Thanh, Tran Dinh Truong and Nguyen Thi Thuy Hoa stand trial in Ha Tinh, September 14, 2020. (Photo: VNE)

The deaths of the 31 men and eight women from Vietnam, who were found in a vehicle near London in October 2019, highlighted the enormous risks of illegal migration to Europe and sparked an international outcry, The Telegraph reported.

The court in the central province gave Nguyen Quoc Thanh, 26, seven years and six months in prison; Tran Dinh Truong, 35, five years; Nguyen Thi Thuy Hoa, 36, six years; and Nguyen Xuan Trieu, 24, two years and six months.

Three other defendants, Le Van Hue, 53, and Vo Van Ky, 52, received one year and six month suspended jail sentence each; and Vo Van Ho, 62, a one year suspended jail sentence.

According to VNE, the four defendants were found guilty of "organising, brokering illegal emigration", while two others had been given suspended sentences.

The judges said the defendants had engaged in dangerous violations of immigration and labor export laws, but recognized the fact that they had cooperated with the investigators and been willing to address the consequences.

Victim's father raises voice about the conviction

But Nguyen Dinh Gia, who lost his 20-year-old son Luong in the tragedy, told AFP he believed the defendants should not have been given jail terms.

"The people involved were just trying to help and then the accident happened," he said.

"He was an adult who made his own decision and joined the trip voluntarily, with the aim to improve his life, earning money to alleviate our poverty."

Gia said his son had wanted to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018.

The journey to Britain, where he aimed to look for work in a nail salon, would have cost him around £11,000.

"It has been almost a year but whenever I think about this, it's still painful," Gia said.

Luong and the majority of the other migrants came from a handful of poor central provinces, hotspots for illegal migration to Europe.

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This picture taken on Sept 14, 2020 and released by the Vietnam News Agency shows defendants at a trial against those involved in organising for people to migrate abroad, in connection with the deaths of 39 migrants found in a refrigerated truck in Britain last year, at a court in Ha Tinh province. (Photo: AFP)

The road to the deadly truck

According to the indictment, Truong worked with Hoa and Thanh to build a file for Pham Thi Tra My, who was 26 then, so she could sneak into the U.K. to work.

Following the ring’s guidance, My was taken to China before being sent to France. By then, My had paid the ring $22,000.

In the next phase, My was brought from France to the U.K. in a refrigerated truck along with 38 other Vietnamese citizens. All of them froze to death in the truck and their bodies were discovered near Essex, a county in southeast England, on October 23 last year.

Seven people involved in trafficking My and tens of others to the U.K were arrested by Ha Tinh police in February.

The deaths of the 39 Vietnamese had made international headlines. Their identities were revealed by authorities last November. Their remains were brought home later that month.

My's last text message to her mother went viral, horrifying people across the globe. Part of it, quoted by many news agencies, read: "I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe ... I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam ... I am sorry, Mum."

My, the late girl who texted her family before dying inside the refrigerated truck
My, the late girl who texted her family before dying inside the refrigerated truck (Photo: Twitter)

Seven people involved in trafficking My and tens of others to the U.K were arrested by Ha Tinh police in February.

The deaths of the 39 Vietnamese had made international headlines. Their identities were revealed by authorities last November. Their remains were brought home later that month.

My's last text message to her mother went viral, horrifying people across the globe. Part of it, quoted by many news agencies, read: "I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe ... I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam ... I am sorry, Mum."

Between March and May last year, Nguyen Xuan Trieu had used his contacts to assist several residents in Nghi Xuan District to go to Europe and earned $1,000. His action was exposed when some individuals were deported to Vietnam for carrying fake passports.

Hoa had brokered a Europe trip for 16 people and earned $3,000. Truong had helped three others and got paid $1,500.

While Ky and Ho both arranged for three people to get to Europe for VND28 million ($1,200), Hue helped three others for $1,500. Trieu helped bring six others to Europe and made $1,000.

Truong told investigators that he had worked in the U.K. He had only instructed My, his cousin, to go to France, he told authorities, insisting that he had nothing to do with her journey to the U.K. It was "inappropriate" for the authorities to conclude that he caused her death, he said. Truong also said he "does not clearly remember" how many people he’d helped get to Europe.

With Diem still at large, her brother Thanh was identified as one of the kingpins who helped 71 people to enter Europe illegally. Thanh made contact with Hoa, Hue and Ky and worked with them to bring My and many others to Europe.

"I followed Diem’s instructions. After receiving the files of people to be trafficked, I sent them to her and someone would arrange for the clients to go to China, I don’t know about anything else," Thanh told the court.

Hoa said he knew Diem and Thanh because they had done business before, sending his relatives abroad. He had sent them more than 42 files to earn commissions. Hoa was responsible for taking My to France, authorities had said earlier.

Ho and Hue said they’d contacted Thanh to give him files and earn commission. Trieu said he entrusted his clients in the hand of a person he knew through social media and had not reaped any benefit from this venture.

Pham Van Thin, My’s father, who was present at court, said: "My family paid $22,000 to take my child to the U.K. but our dream was destroyed and we have lost everything."

Thin said he hoped the defendants would compensate his family as they have struggled to repay their debts.

(Video: Telegraph)

Six defendants apologized to the families of My and other victims at court. Thanh, Truong and Hoa said they would compensate her family with VND310 million ($13,400).

Of the 39 victims, 21 were from Nghe An Province and 10 from Ha Tinh. The rest hailed from Quang Binh and Thua Thien-Hue provinces in the central region; and Hai Duong Province and Hai Phong City, both in the north.

In June, a court in Nghe An Province sentenced local woman Nguyen Thi Tham, 25, to 15 months in jail for helping a friend, Nguyen Van Hiep, enter the U.K. Hiep was among the 39 truck tragedy victims.

In the same case, 40-year-old Irishman Ronan Hughes pleaded guilty on August 28 to manslaughter charges in the U.K., and Northern Irishman truck driver Maurice Robinson pleaded guilty in April.

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