Lorry driver admits he was ‘blinded’ by money when he join smuggling operation that killed 39 migrants

Tristan Kirk
·2-min read
<p>Maurice Robinson arriving in Purfleet, with 39 people dead in his truck</p> (PA)

Maurice Robinson arriving in Purfleet, with 39 people dead in his truck

(PA)

The driver of the lorry in which 39 migrants died has admitted he was “blinded” by money when he agreed to join the deadly smuggling operation.

Maurice Robinson, 26, made the grim discovery of dead bodies in a container after he picked it up from the docks in Purfleet.

He has admitted manslaughter, confessing that he knew Vietnamese migrants were being smuggled into the UK and was due to pick up £500 for each person successfully brought through customs.

“Often people are blinded by the chance of enrichment, and don’t follow through and subjectively test the situation they have been drawn into”, Robinson’s barrister Tyrone Smith QC said at a sentencing hearing on Thursday.

“They play down the risks in their own minds, and don’t want to see what they are doing is particularly bad.

“It’s taken this awful event for the defendant to reflect fully and properly on what he has done.

“It is an easy task to recognise the dangers and criminality of these events – if only he had stopped and thought of the repercussions in advance. For his own reasons, he blinded himself to what are clearly objective risks.”

Robinson was due to drive the container from Purfleet to a drop-off point nearby, on the instructions of haulage boss Ronan Hughes, 41.

Hughes and Nica were ringleaders in the people smuggling operation and are both facing sentence for the manslaughters alongside Robinson and another lorry driver, 24-year-old Eamonn Harrison.

Robinson said he was approached to join the illegal trade by Hughes, and later helped police to identify a key meeting between Hughes and Nica five days before the tragedy.

He denies knowing how many people were in the container, and blamed shock for initially misleading police about his involvement.

“He was horrified by what he saw, he was horrified by his role in bringing about these deaths.

“He understands and recognises the hurt and loss his participation caused, not just simply to the victims but their families.”

Robinson was the person who called 999 in the early hours of October 23, 2019, after opening the container to give the occupants air and finding their dead bodies.

The victims had been in the container for around 12 hours, suffocating in sweltering temperatures.

Robinson, of Craigavon and Hughes, of Armagh, pleaded guilty to the 39 manslaughters and the people-smuggling plot. Nica, of Basildon, and Harrison, from County Down, were found guilty of the charges following a trial.

Mr Justice Sweeney is due to sentence the men, along with other defendants involved in people smuggling, on Monday.

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