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CLOSE ESCAPE Truck driver jailed for two years after 17 migrants struggling to breathe found in lorry

Border bandit was being paid just £3,000 for journey

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Truck driver Bernard Meegan.

Truck driver Bernard Meegan.

Truck driver Bernard Meegan.

This is the Irish trucker banged-up abroad for trying to smuggle 17 Vietnamese migrants - and almost ended up killing them like Mo Robinson did.

Bernard Vincent Meegan was jailed in France on human trafficking charges but is 'lucky' he's not facing more serious charges after the migrants were discovered struggling to breathe.

Customs officials did him a massive favour by searching his truck to find the migrants gasping for air - before they had even got anywhere near their final destination of England.

He was caught with the migrants four weeks ago - 18 months after Co. Armagh trucker Mo Robinson was caught with the bodies of 39 migrants from Vietnam in the back of a trailer he had agreed to pick up off a ferry from Belgium.

In that tragic case all 39 suffocated to death and Robinson was sentenced last month to serve 13 years behind bars.

In the case of 54-year-old border bandit Bernard Meegan, the 17 migrants in his truck were already struggling to breathe.

Among them was a 15-year-old girl.

A court in France heard how the migrants were lucky to be alive and may well not have survived had Meegan's truck not been stopped and searched by customs officials.

And the callous human trafficker was only getting paid £3,000 for the death trip.

Meegan, from Inniskeen in Co. Monaghan, but also with an address in Culloville, Co. Armagh, was jailed for two years and banned from entering France for three years after his release.

The human trafficker was also fined €2,500 by the French authorities, who made specific reference to the case of Mo Robinson during the sentence hearing.

Mo Robinson had stood to make £60,000 from the single trip but shockingly it emerged in court that Meegan had agreed to ferry the migrants on their potentially deadly journey in the back of his refrigerated truck for the paltry sum of just £3,000.

We can reveal Meegan, known as Barney to his friends, was a popular party man who, sources claim, is a notorious 'ladies' man'.

"Barney Meegan was the life and soul of the party, he was a charmer, a talker and loved to party," said a source.

"He drank a lot in the local GAA and he stole the show a few years ago at one of the fundraising dance contests.

"He loved going to Thailand on holidays and he was a desperate ladies' man. He was living with a girl for a long time and they got married - huge wedding - but it didn't last for long.

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Trafficker Bernard Meegan was lucky the people in his truck didn’t die like those in Mo Robinson’s lorry.

Trafficker Bernard Meegan was lucky the people in his truck didn’t die like those in Mo Robinson’s lorry.

Trafficker Bernard Meegan was lucky the people in his truck didn’t die like those in Mo Robinson’s lorry.

"He still needed his lads' weeks away and - he couldn't help himself and he'd be chasing women.

"He has kids all over Ireland to several women. Total womaniser. He had a son he didn't know about for years until the son approached him.

"People are shocked that Barney has been jailed for trying to smuggle people into the UK but what's really surprising is he was doing this for just £3,000.

"After what happened to Mo Robinson and Ronan Hughes you'd think people doing this would be more careful."

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Lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson was convicted of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men women and children who suffocated as they were smuggled into Britain in a lorry trailer.

Lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson was convicted of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men women and children who suffocated as they were smuggled into Britain in a lorry trailer.

Lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson was convicted of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men women and children who suffocated as they were smuggled into Britain in a lorry trailer.

Meegan was arrested on February 10 in the area of Coquelles, near Calais in northern France, close to the Eurotunnel terminal.

Customs officials searched his truck and found the stowaways in the trailer with sleeping bags. Fortunately, according to Meegan, the refrigerators were not working.

The migrants were interviewed by the police and all explained that they were part of two groups.

They had been taken to a parking lot by a smuggler while Meegan was informed of their arrival.

The passengers had difficulty breathing and were very cold already.

On Meegan, the police found €1,200 and his telephone was seized and examined forensically.

The French authorities were able to ascertain that Meegan had already been to France twice in recent months.

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Jailed truck driver Bernard Meegan

Jailed truck driver Bernard Meegan

Jailed truck driver Bernard Meegan

Officials also found numbers whose owners were previously implicated in human trafficking, though no names were divulged in court.

The defendant admitted the offence, while saying that he had to transport one or two people. The presiding judge told him that he did not realise the gravity of the situation.

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The lorry driven by Mo Robinson

The lorry driven by Mo Robinson

The lorry driven by Mo Robinson

Meegan was to take the migrants back to England and leave them at a pre-designated area - similar to the way mass killer Mo Robinson was to drop off his victims.

"Bernard Meegan is lucky he's not facing manslaughter charges like Mo Robinson," said a source. "But for the customs officials raiding his truck it's likely they would have died."

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