Final hours of 39 migrants recorded in desperate phone calls from inside lorry

A dying victim made a tragic recording for his family saying: “I am sorry. I cannot take care of you. I cannot breathe.

Have a good life,” jurors heard today. A trial at the Old Bailey has heard harrowing details of the last hours of the lives of 39 migrants who died in a lorry container in October last year. Irish truck driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, and British-Romanian Gheorghe Nica, 43, are accused of the manslaughter of the non-EU citizens who were found dead in a trailer near Grays, Essex.

They both deny 39 counts of manslaughter. The audio message was made by Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, for his wife, children and mother at 7.37pm after phone signal in the trailer cut out.

Eamonn Harrison denies 39 counts of manslaughter

Distressing tapes made by the Vietnamese nationals in their last moments alive were played to the court today. They tried in vain to call for help from the outside world but their bodies were not discovered until the next morning, the jury was told.

At shortly before 7pm on October 22 a call was made to 113, which jurors were told was significant because in Vietnam that is the equivalent of 999. Pham Thi Tra My who took photos of herself tried to make three calls only minutes apart. None of those calls were successful.

At 7.37pm Nguyen Tho Tuan said: “It’s Tuan. I am sorry. I cannot take care of you.

I am sorry. I am sorry. I cannot breathe.

I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.” Mr Emlyn Jones, prosecuting, said that Mr Tuan’s message was addressed to his wife, children and mother.

Another male victim made a recording saying: “I can’t breathe. I’m sorry. I have to go now,” adding after a long pause: “It’s all my fault.”

Final hours of 39 migrants recorded in desperate phone calls from inside lorryGheorghe Nica also denies 39 counts of manslaughter

Moments later, another voice could be heard saying: ‘He’s dead,’ the prosecutor said.

The temperature inside the container had leapt to 35C by 6.25pm, and the court was shown photographs taken by 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My after the heat began to reach the ‘unbearable’ highs, the jurors were told. By 6.59pm, another victim had attempted to call emergency services, the court heard. The prosecutor said that the air in the trailer would have become ‘toxic’ after about nine hours of confinement, and migrants would have started dying shortly after – at around 10 to 10.30pm.

Cellsite data from the victims’ phones placed them in various locations around Brussels and Paris the day before they died, suggesting they travelled northbound to the Belgian border.

Final hours of 39 migrants recorded in desperate phone calls from inside lorry

Harrison then arranged to meet the migrants at Chemin Noord Straete, France, where they arrived in taxis and hid in an ‘agricultural shed’ until he collected them, jurors heard. Passerby Laetitia Mockelyn witnessed the rendezvous, seeing the Vietnamese nationals ‘run into’ their temporary shelter before jumping into the back of a lorry shortly after, it was said. “There was an eye-witness to these events.

Laetitia Mockelyn saw something of what happened in Chemin Noord Straete. She thought this was at about 10.35am,” Mr Emlyn Jones said in the prosecution opening statement. “She saw a vehicle like a van with a taxi sign.

The occupants of the taxi were dropped off and ran into an agricultural shed. “She then saw the lorry arrive, and the same people ran out of the shed and climbed into the back of the lorry, which then drove away again. “She refers to the people she saw as “migrants,” because no doubt what was going on was obvious.”

Final hours of 39 migrants recorded in desperate phone calls from inside lorryThe 39 people were found dead in the container lorry on October 23, 2019

Mr Emlyn Jones added: “At 8.02pm a video file was recorded using a mobile phone.

The screen is in darkness. “A male voice says ‘I can’t breathe.’ He then stated his own name and address, and went on: ‘I can’t breathe. I’m sorry.

I have to go now’. “There is at least one other voice audible in the background. In a second video file on the same handset, recorded a minute later, the same voice repeats that he is sorry, and after a long pause adds ‘It’s all my fault.’.

“After that, another voice can be heard: ‘He’s dead.’ “The temperature was still rising and by 9.02pm It had reached 38C. “Laura Martin, a forensic scientist and expert in Occupational Hygiene and Health and Safety has calculated the length of time 39 adults could spend in the confined and airtight trailer before the atmosphere became toxic.

Final hours of 39 migrants recorded in desperate phone calls from inside lorryThe bodies were found in the back of a lorry in Grays, Essex

“She estimates that after 8 and a half to 9 hours after the trailer was sealed shut for the final time, the toxic threshold would have been reached, which would have resulted in deaths occurring shortly thereafter.

That would equate to approximately 10 to 10.30pm. “She is reinforced in that opinion by the fact that her estimate time of fatal atmospheric toxicity coincides with the temperature in the trailer reaching its peak of 38.5C between 9.42pm and 10.42pm, after which it began gradually to fall again.” A port worker who moored the container of dying migrants noticed a ‘pungent’ smell ‘similar to waste,’ the court heard.

The Clementine – the cargo ship on which the trailer had sailed – docked at Purfleet just after midnight on 23 October and was picked up by Robinson at 1.07am. The migrants are thought to have died at around 10 to 10.30pm, the court heard. Mr Jones said: “We have the MV Clementine docking at Purfleet at 12.18am.

Maurice Robinson had arrived at the port to collect it at a quarter to midnight.

Final hours of 39 migrants recorded in desperate phone calls from inside lorryThe trailer leaves industrial where it was found under police escort

“It had been due to arrive at midnight, and was almost 20 minutes late, so he had to wait a bit. “After the trailer had been brought off the ship, Robinson picked it up and left the port with it at 1.07 a.m, and in due course you will see some CCTV from the port confirming the details of Robinson picking [it] up. “Incidentally, a man called Jason Rook – a member of staff at the port – had been responsible for taking the trailers off the ship, and he had hooked up to [the trailer] in order to move it ashore.

“When he left it in its waiting bay, he noticed a pungent smell, which he described as being “similar to waste”.” Harrison, Kennedy, 24, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland and Valentin Calota 37, of Birmingham, deny being part of a wider people-smuggling operation, which Nica has admitted. The court has previously heard that four other defendants have already admitted being part of a people-smuggling plot.

Among them are lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 26, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, who found the 39 migrants dead in the container after picking it up in Purfleet, and hauler boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, who have admitted manslaughter.

The trial continues.

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