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Christopher Hughes

Christopher Hughes

PA

Christopher Hughes

THE BROTHER of migrant death haulier Ronan Hughes is suing Essex Police and two of the most senior officers who were involved in the investigation into the Essex container death tragedy.

Court records show Christopher Hughes initiated legal proceedings in the High Court on Monday against the Chief Constable of Essex Police Force, Det Chief Insp Daniel Stoten And Acting Chief Inspector Tim Smith.

Although no documents have yet been filed in connection with the case, it is believed Mr Hughes’ case relates to his being named by the officers as a person of interest alongside his brother.

Ronan Hughes has since pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to 39 counts of manslaughter arising from the deaths of the immigrants in one of his company’s lorries – however brother Christopher is understood to have repeatedly insisted he had no involvement whatsoever in the tragedy and he has never been arrested or questioned by police.

At a press conference held in Belfast in November of last year, DCI Daniel said that both Ronan and Christopher Hughes should come forward to face questioning over suspected manslaughter and people trafficking.

Stoten also confirmed that police had recently spoke by phone with Ronan Hughes but said, at that time, that his whereabouts were not known since the victims’ bodies were discovered in the back of a lorry in Essex on 23 October.

“Today I want to make a direct appeal: Ronan and Christopher, hand yourselves in to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We need you both to come forward and assist this investigation,” he said.

“Although we have already spoken to Ronan Hughes recently by telephone we need to have a conversation with him and his brother in person. Talking to Ronan and Christopher is crucial to our investigation and the sooner we can make this happen the sooner we can progress and continue with our investigation.”

Four men stand are currently on trial accused of causing the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated in "unbearable" heat during the people-smuggling operation.

The court case opened at the Old Bailey in London earlier this month regarding the deaths of 31 men and eight women whose bodies were found in a truck trailer in southeast England in October 2019.

Among the dead were 10 teenagers, including two 15-year-old boys.

The court heard the truck carrying the migrants was refrigerated but the cooling system was turned off and temperatures hit an "unbearable" 38.5 degrees Celsius.

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones said the migrants were sealed inside the vehicle and were unable to get a phone signal.

However, one 28-year-old woman, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, in the container, wrote a text message that was discovered later on her phone, unsent: "Maybe going to die in the container, can't breathe any more dear."

Eamonn Harrison, 23, is accused of driving the lorry to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before it was carried by boat to the port of Purfleet in Essex, southeast England.

He is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, along with 43-year-old Gheorghe Nica.

Christopher Kennedy, 24, and Valentin Calota, 37, are accused of being part of the conspiracy to transport the migrants. All four have pleaded not guilty.

The prosecutor said the group had carried out successful runs before October's tragedy.

Emlyn Jones said the migrants had been in the lorry for at least 12 hours before "any meaningful amount of fresh air had been let into the sealed container."

The driver who picked up the migrants at Purfleet, Maurice Robinson, knew he had to check on the travelers, his boss Ronan Hughes messaged him by text to "give them air quickly, but don't let them out."

"Robinson drove out of Purfleet port and almost immediately stopped and opened the doors at the back," Emlyn Jones said.

"What he found must haunt him still. For the 39 men and women inside, that lorry had become their tomb."

Robinson and Hughes have pleaded guilty to the manslaughter and people-smuggling charges.

The trial is expected to last up to six weeks.

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