Essex lorry deaths: Trafficking ringleader jailed for 15 years


A court in Belgium has sentenced the ringleader of the gang who was responsible for the Essex lorry deaths to 15 years in prison today, 19 January. The court ruled that Vo Van Hong was in charge of a cross-Channel people trafficking operation based in Belgium.
Thirty-nine Vietnamese people, aged 15-44, were discovered suffocated at an industrial estate in Essex in 2019 and at least 15 of those people had passed through Hong’s network.
Hong was one of 23 people on trial in Belgium while, last year, four people were convicted of manslaughter over the Essex lorry deaths. The tragic incident highlighted how much people were willing to risk to make it to the UK and preceded the current ‘migrant crisis’.
The Belgian court said Hong was responsible for running a criminal organisation that had smuggled at least 115 people across the Channel between September 2018 and his arrest in May 2020. He had denied involvement, claiming that he was himself a victim of the gang.
All those placed on trial in Bruges were either Vietnamese themselves or Belgians of Vietnamese origin. Four were cleared by the court, while 19 were convicted. They were all accused of having input and playing a role before the fatal journey happened. Two other members of the gang were given lengthy sentences, including Nguyen Long, 46, described as the ringleader’s main lieutenant, according to AFP news agency. The court condemned the gang’s contempt for their victims’ human dignity and wellbeing.
“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,” Luc Arnou, a lawyer for the victims’ families, told Belgian TV.
The British trial that ended a year ago at the Old Bailey in London convicted two lorry drivers and two other smugglers of manslaughter, while three others were jailed for involvement in the gang. In addition to the Belgian and British trials regarding the Essex lorry deaths, a court in Vietnam has handed out sentences and there are 26 suspects facing trial in France.

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Claire Gordon

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