Essex lorry case: Court rules Irishman can be extradited to UK to face manslaughter charges

A High Court judge has ordered the extradition of a Monaghan haulier to the United Kingdom, where he is wanted for allegedly trafficking 39 migrants found dead in a lorry container in Essex last year.
Essex lorry case: Court rules Irishman can be extradited to UK to face manslaughter charges
Ronan Hughes

A man alleged to have delivered a trailer in which 39 migrants were found dead in Essex last year, has lost his latest challenge aimed at preventing his extradition to the United Kingdom.

Eamon Ronald Harrison (23) of Mayobridge, Co Down, is wanted by Essex police to face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

It is alleged that Mr Harrison delivered the trailer, in which the bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in an industrial park in Grays, Essex on October 23 last, to a Belgian port before its onward journey to Britain. The cargo was recorded as “biscuits” and the migrants died from a lack of oxygen between 8pm and 10pm after they had entered UK territorial waters. The temperature inside the unit rose to 38.5 degrees before it “steadily reduced”, and police discovered “bloody hand prints” inside.

The eight women and 31 men had arrived in England last October on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium. The youngest victims were two boys aged 15.

The High Court in Dublin ordered Mr Harrison's extradition in January and the Court of Appeal upheld that decision today.

Last May, lawyers for Mr Harrison told the Court of Appeal that the warrant seeking the arrest and surrender of the Northern Irish man was "wholly unsatisfactory".

In a judgement delivered electronically today, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said the details in the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), when read as a whole, gave sufficient information of the acts for which the appellant was sought, to permit the court to conclude that correspondence between offences could be established.

Ms Justice Donnelly said the High Court had conducted an appropriate assessment of the information and correctly concluded that all the conditions for surrender to the issuing State had been met. President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards said they agreed with their colleague's decision.

Dismissing the appeal, Ms Justice Donnelly said the order should not be perfected until 10 days have elapsed since the delivery of the judgment. The judge pointed out that should Mr Harrison want a stay on the order of surrender for the purpose of seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, then he should bring notice of his intention to do so within five days of the delivery of the judgment.

Ordering Mr Harrison’s extradition to the UK in January, Mr Justice Donald Binchy said the British-Irish citizen was alleged to have been involved in transporting illegal migrants on two previous occasions, and that the trailer at the centre of the Essex discovery was used on one of those occasions.

Earlier today, the High Court ordered the extradition of Ronan Hughes (40) who is also wanted in the UK to face charges in connection with the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants in the UK last October. Mr Hughes, from Leitrim, Silverstream, Tyholland in Co Monaghan, who was described in court as "the ringleader" of the group which is alleged to have smuggled the migrants into the UK, is facing 39 charges of manslaughter and a charge of assisting unlawful immigration.

Extradition appeal:

Appealing the order for surrender last month, Mr Harrison's barrister, Siobhan Stack SC, submitted that the principle issue related to whether additional information was admissible before the High Court given that it did not come from the issuing judicial authority (a magistrate) but from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The barrister argued that the additional information was inadmissible as it was not submitted by the Issuing Judicial Authority as required.

The second point of appeal related to whether the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and the additional information state with sufficient clarity or detail the “circumstances in which the offence … is alleged to have been committed, including the time and place of its commission or alleged commission, and the degree of involvement or alleged degree of involvement of the person in the commission of the offence.”

Ms Stack maintained it was clear that the warrant had completely failed to give a “precise description of the facts” or even to set out what it was alleged Mr Harrison had done. She described the warrant in this case as “brief in the extreme” and said it was “wholly unsatisfactory”. There was no meaningful description of time and place nor a description of the event which Mr Harrison was alleged to have engaged in, she continued.

Nothing more than the vaguest of circumstances and “incredibly bald information” concerning Mr Harrison allegedly dropping off the trailer had been provided, indicated Ms Stack, adding that there was also nothing about how the migrants had come to be in the trailer. She stated that this "critical information" should have been contained in the warrant.

Concluding the legal challenge to Mr Harrison’s pending extradition, Ms Stack said UK authorities should have gone back and issued the correct warrant but that was not done in this case.

Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Ronan Kennedy SC, said there was no question but that this EAW was issued by the Issuing Judicial Authority, namely District judge Michael Snow sitting at Westminster Magistrates Court. He said it had received the appropriate scrutiny in terms of proportionality.

At no time did the warrant seek to address that the CPS was acting as the Issuing Judicial Authority and it was no surprise that information had emanated from the CPS, he submitted. “This confidence underpins the whole system and is the basis for mutual recognition,” he argued.

He further submitted that the High Court judge had engaged in a rigorous analysis of the additional information and whether he should have relied on it.

Furthermore, Mr Kennedy said it was inaccurate to suggest that the warrant was deficient in the way it had been presented to the court and UK authorities had provided a level of detail which far surpassed the level of detail normally provided. The warrant contained most if not all of what was required and was not as “marked” as the appellant would have one believe, he added.

The lawyer explained that what was being alleged against Mr Harrison was quite clear, namely that he was part of a conspiracy and had driven the trailer to a port, where it was loaded onto a ferry. Counsel said it was alleged: “He had a part to play not only in the conspiracy but also in the manslaughter of people".

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