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storyline fears ITV delayed airing cop drama Marcella in Ireland due to Essex lorry deaths trial

Marcella back for new series after delays following migrant horror


Anna Friel in Marcella, which is due back on our screens next week

Anna Friel in Marcella, which is due back on our screens next week

Anna Friel in Marcella, which is due back on our screens next week

The explosive new series of Marcella was delayed by the mass killing of 39 Vietnamese nationals at the hands of a Northern Ireland trafficking gang.

The cop drama with Anna Friel has already been shown around the world on Netflix. But ITV kept it off air in the UK and Ireland because of scenes showing people smuggling.

Three years since it was last on screen it's now set for release next week after the convictions of eight men in connection with the tragic deaths.

The 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a lorry container in Purfleet in England in October 2019. The victims, aged 15 to 44, had suffocated after spending 12 hours in the sealed unit.

They had paid £13,000 each to be smuggled into the UK by a trafficking ring led by Monaghan haulier Ronan Hughes and Romanian Gheorghe Nica, who'd promised them VIP treatment.

Hughes pleaded guilty last year to 39 counts of manslaughter, along with lorry driver Mo Robinson from Markethill.

At the Old Bailey on Friday Hughes was jailed for 20 years, Nica received a 27 year sentence and Robinson was ordered to serve 13 years and four months.


Ronan Hughes.

Ronan Hughes.

Ronan Hughes.

Robinson had stood to make around £50,000 for the single delivery but his bosses had agreed to packing too many people into the trailer for them to be able to survive the ferry crossing from Belgium.

Nica and 24-year-old Eamonn Harrison from Mayobridge have also been convicted of being involved in the deadly smuggling operation. Harrison had dropped off the trailer at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. He has been sentenced to 18 years.

Lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, from Keady, Co Armagh, who previously collected the trailers from Purfleet on two successful runs, claimed he thought he was transporting cigarettes, but was found guilty of conspiring to assist illegal immigration.

A total of eight men have now been convicted in connection with the deaths.

The third season of the ITV series features similar scenes of people trafficking by Belfast crime family, the Maguires, with Silent Witness star Amanda Burton as the matriarch. The series was filmed here in 2019 but just months after it wrapped the horrific events in the English port unfolded.


Mo Robinson

Mo Robinson

Mo Robinson

It's not the main plot but producers felt it was too close to reality to be shown while the raft of court cases carried on.

Marcella had been delayed due to Covid and was then set for transmission last summer. It was released on streaming service Netflix last June but only for overseas customers, and star Anna, executive producer on the show, told her Twitter followers it would be released last September but that was also put back.

"It feels like we made it a lifetime ago," says a series insider. "We made it in the middle of 2019 and then we kept waiting for news of a transmission date. It feels really strange that it's been shown all around the world, but not here. I've got friends in America and Australia who have reported back to me that they've watched the whole series.

"I think the transmission date was put back on the grounds of taste, because you couldn't have these scenes in a drama so soon after it had happened in real life.

"But it was also out of consideration for the trials, so the show is going ahead now that the legal process is over."

The series has been a hit for bringing the darkness of Nordic-noir to a UK cop drama. It's the work of Hans Rosenfeldt who created Scandi series The Bridge, and Nicola Larder, who produced Waterloo Road.

Anna Friel plays DS Marcella Backland who suffers from black out episodes. In the first series she's returned to work on a serial killer case after her husband announces he's leaving her.

Friel won an International Emmy for the gritty role in 2017.

For the third season Marcella has relocated to Belfast on an undercover mission to infiltrate a crime gang, but her handler, played by Hugo Speer, fears she's gone too deep into her new identity as Keira. Following the horrific revelations about the reason for her mental health problems the new series dives into her damaged psyche.

It also features local talent Aaron McCusker from Bohemian Rhapsody and Martin McCann, star of The Survivalist as brothers in the Maguire crime family and Hollyoaks' Glen Wallace as a face from the troubled cop's past.

  • Marcella is on ITV on Tuesday at 9pm.

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Online Editors