Man wanted in UK over Essex lorry deaths was 'involved in transporting illegal migrants', judgement claims

Man wanted in UK over Essex lorry deaths was 'involved in transporting illegal migrants', judgement claims
File photo of the lorry carrying the 39 Vietnamese nationals in October last year.

A Northern Irish man wanted in the UK to face multiple counts of manslaughter after 39 Vietnamese nationals were found dead in a lorry in Essex last October is alleged to have been involved in transporting illegal migrants on two other occasions, a High Court judgement has outlined.

It is also alleged that the trailer at the centre of the Essex tragedy was used on one of those two prior occasions.

The judgement also states there is evidence that the sealed refrigeration unit in which the 39 people were found dead was not turned on and early indications are that all of the deceased died from oxygen starvation.

The temperature inside the unit rose to 38.5 degrees before it “steadily reduced” while “bloody hand prints” were later found in the inside of the unit.

The UK authorities want Eamon Ronald Harrison (aged 23) from Mayobridge, Co Down, to face 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and conspiracy to commit human trafficking under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.

It’s alleged that Mr Harrison delivered the trailer, in which the 39 people were found dead, to a Belgian port before its onward journey to Britain, the court previously heard.

On January 24, Mr Justice Binchy said he found there was nothing to preclude him from ordering the surrender of Mr Harrison but outlined that his lengthy and “detailed” written judgement explaining his decision was not yet ready. He held off making the order to give Mr Harrison’s legal team to consider his judgement.

Today, Mr Harrison appeared in the High Court and Siobhan Stack SC, for Mr Harrison, requested permission to appeal the judgement. Mr Justice Binchy listened to submissions from Ms Stack and Ronan Kennedy SC, for the Department of Justice, and remanded Mr Harrison in custody to appear again next Wednesday at 10am.

In court today, Ms Stack argued that the additional information the court received from the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK on December 4 last, on foot of a request from the High Court on November 21, was of a “different quality” to the information that was set out in the European Arrest Warrant.

She argued that this contrast calls into question “the appropriateness of all the information in this case” and said the “warrant was sparse in the extreme”.

Ms Stack also said that the matter is one of exceptional public importance and that, as a matter of public interest, the matter should be heard in a higher court. The barrister said: “This is a matter for a higher court to rule on.”

The barrister also argued this morning that the additional information is “inadmissible” as it should have been provided by the issuing judicial authority, the UK Central Authority, as opposed to the CPS.

She also said “manifest error has been met” and suggested an improper use of law would be grounds for an appeal.

Ronan Kennedy SC, for the Minister for Justice, argued that no public interest matter arises and no point of law of exceptional importance arises in order to allow for an appeal.

He said: “We say that the legal principles applicable are clear, unambiguous and the respondent cannot impute uncertainty into the law for the purpose of persuading the court to certify a point.”

In respect of the additional information provided to the court by the CPS, Mr Kennedy said: "The court had to consider the additional information and determine what weight to attach to it.

And to suggest that it somehow fell from the sky, in my respectful submission, doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny.

Mr Kennedy argued that the extradition order “ought to be made without further delay”.

Meanwhile, Mr Justice Binchy’s judgement outlines further details of the allegations against Mr Harrison. He said it’s alleged that he drove the trailer unit in which the deceased were being transported to Zeebrugge on October 22, 2019, arriving at 1.54pm, with the cargo recorded as “biscuits”.

He added: “When paramedics arrived at the scene [in Essex], they found 39 bodies in the back of the trailer and all were dead. Mr [Maurice] Robinson was arrested on suspicion of murder. After Mr Robinson’s arrest, on the same day, [another named man] made a number of phone calls to the respondent [Eamon Harrison]. It is stated in the additional information that [this man] recruited Mr Robinson and the respondent in his haulage business.

“While the results of post-mortem examinations are awaited, early indications are that all of the deceased died from hypoxia (starvation of oxygen). Hyperthermia may also have been a factor in their deaths. The refrigeration unit in the trailer was not switched on. The temperature records in the trailer indicate that from 10:35am hours on Tuesday 22nd October, the temperature in the unit rose consistently until 10.55pm on that day when it reached its highest level of 38.5 degrees. Thereafter it steadily reduced."

Bloody hand prints were observed on the inside of the lorry door.

Mr Binchy also noted that “other information regarding the activities” of Mr Harrison have been provided. He said it’s alleged that Mr Harrison is believed to have been involved in the “transportation of illegal migrants from Zeebrugge Port to Purfleet Port on 10th/11th October, 2019, and again on 17th/18th October, 2019.

"On the latter occasion, the same trailer as that used to transport the deceased migrants on 22nd/23rd October, 2019 was used. The respondent [Mr Harrison] was identified as being the driver".

Mr Justice Binchy added: “It is stated that on 9th May, 2018, the respondent [Mr Harrison] was stopped at Coquelles, France, driving a trailer unit in which 18 Vietnamese migrants were discovered."

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