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MEMBERS of a million-pound people-smuggling ring could be facing life behind bars for the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese people.
Aged between 15 and 44, the economic refugees were found dead in the back of a trailer in Essex on October 23 last year. They had suffocated in sweltering temperatures as the airtight container was shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.
The “unscrupulous” gang behind the illegal shipment were motivated by greed as they pursued profits of more than £1 million that month alone.
Following a 10-week trial at London’s Old Bailey, Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Basildon, and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from County Down, were found guilty today of 39 counts of manslaughter.
They were also convicted of their part in the people-smuggling operation with lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham.
The verdicts bring the total number of people convicted in Britain to eight, including haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson, of Craigavon, who admitted manslaughter.
Prosecutors are considering charges against a further three people.
The maximum sentence for people-smuggling is 14 years in prison with manslaughter carrying a possible life sentence.
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