Trafficking ringleader sentenced to 15 years in prison over 39 migrants found dead in lorry

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The lorry in which 39 migrants from Vietnam died - Steve Finn for The Telegraph
The lorry in which 39 migrants from Vietnam died - Steve Finn for The Telegraph

A trafficking ringleader has been sentenced to 15 years in prison over the deaths of 39 migrants found in the back of a lorry in Essex.

Vietnamese man Vo Van Hong, 45, was found guilty in a Belgian court of leading a cross-Channel people-trafficking operation that has been linked to a truck that was found full of corpses on an English industrial estate in October 2019.

At least 15 of the 39 dead had passed through the Belgian-based trafficking network, which operated two safe houses in the Anderlecht district of Brussels for migrants heading to Britain.

The 2019 discovery on the Grays industrial park east of London was one of the worst involving migrants in recent years.

The victims, 31 men and eight women aged between 15 and 44 were all Vietnamese, died from suffocation and hyperthermia in the confined space of the truck, which arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge.

Several suspects have already been convicted and imprisoned in Britain and Vietnam in connection with the case. In France, 26 more have been charged and face trial.

In Belgium, Vo was one of 23 suspects - both Belgians and Vietnamese - put on trial after a May 2020 police operation in which several addresses, most in the Brussels region, were raided and Vietnamese suspected of links to the gang were rounded up.

Most of the defendants were allegedly members of the people-smuggling ring. The remainder allegedly were accomplices, used as safe-house guards, grocery shoppers for the migrants or drivers.

Prosecutors said the "very well-organised" gang was specialised in clandestinely transporting people into Europe then Britain for a total fee of 24,000 euros per person.

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