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Ringleader of Essex lorry deaths people trafficking gang sentenced in Belgium

Hong argued that he too had been a victim of the gang

Police at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container

Jamie McDowell

A man described as a ringleader of the gang which trafficked 39 Vietnamese people found dead in the back of a lorry driven by a Northern Irishman in Essex has been jailed.

Vo Van Hong was sentenced in a Belgian court to 15 years imprisonment for leading the people smuggling gang which had been based in the country.

Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, from Co Armagh, was last year sentenced to 13 years and four months for his part in the tragedy, having picked up the trailer containing the migrants, aged between 15 and 44 from Purfleet docks in Essex on October 23, 2019.

He later opened the trailer to find that the migrants were dead after pulling over at the side of the road.

Mo Robinson

Co Armagh men Christopher Kennedy and Ronan Hughes were also convicted in the Old Bailey in London for their roles in the operation.

Hughes was sentenced to 20 years while Kennedy was handed down seven years.

Hong was among 23 people on trial in Belgium, and the court heard how he smuggled at least 115 people across the English Channel.

He had argued that he himself had been a victim of the gang.

All 23 on trial were either Vietnamese nationals or Belgian nationals of Vietnamese origin.

The court heard Hong ran the operation, while his ‘lieutenant’, Nguyen Long, was also sentenced.

Out of the 23 on trial, 19 were convicted.

A lawyer for the victims’ families, speaking after the sentencing, said: “It's clear that anyone who persists in engaging in this practice and pays no attention to the welfare of these people will be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, 26 people suspected of being part of the gang face trial in France.

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