Essex lorry deaths: Haulier 'tried to stop gossip' about tragedy

Caolan Gormley
Caolan Gormley is on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of being involved in an unlawful immigration plot

A haulage boss accused of being linked to the deaths of 39 migrants tried to stop his mother "gossiping" after news of the tragedy broke, a court heard.

Caolan Gormley, 26, denied involvement in an unlawful immigration plot with his former boss Ronan Hughes and truck driver Christopher Kennedy.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Mr Gormley told jurors he thought they were engaged in smuggling alcohol rather than humans.

The trial is ongoing at the Old Bailey.

Mr Gormley, of Caledon, County Tyrone, told of his "shock" and "total disbelief" when 39 Vietnamese men, women and children were found dead in one of Hughes's vehicles in Essex early on 23 October 2019.

He said he saw the breaking news on social media then someone sent him a photograph of the truck and trailer on WhatsApp, which he sent on to Kennedy. He then spoke to Hughes.

From top left: Dinh Dinh Binh, Nguyen Minh Quang, Nguyen Huy Phong, Le Van Ha, Nguyen Van Hiep, Bui Phan Thang, Nguyen Van Hung, Nguyen Huy Hung, Nguyen Tien Dung, Pham Thi Tra My, Tran Khanh Tho, Nguyen Van Nhan, Vo Ngoc Nam, Vo Van Linh, Nguyen Ba Vu Hung, Vo Nhan Du, Tran Hai Loc, Tran Manh Hung, Nguyen Thi Van, Bui Thi Nhung, Hoang Van Tiep, Tran Thi Ngoc, Phan Thi Thanh, Tran Thi Tho, Duong Minh Tuan, Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh, Tran Thi Mai Nhung, Le Trong Thanh, Nguyen Ngoc Ha, Hoang Van Hoi, Tran Ngoc Hieu, Cao Tien Dung, Dinh Dinh Thai Quyen, Dang Huu Tuyen, Nguyen Dinh Luong, Cao Huy Thanh Nguyen Trong Thai, Nguyen Tho Tuan and Nguyen Dinh Tu
Many of the 39 victims hoped to find better-paid work in the UK

Mr Gormley said: "He called me the night before and I was returning the call. I remember when he answered he sounded different, panicked, making no sense at all. It was just mumbo jumbo."

At 15:46 on 23 October, Mr Gormley received a text from his mother asking if the truck in the news belonged to one of Hughes' brothers.

He replied: "Don't know and neither do u (sic)."

Asked to explain the message, Mr Gormley said: "My mother works in a doctors' surgery and is a bit of a gossip, and I didn't want her gossiping. Perhaps there would be repercussions for her."

Defence barrister Stephan Alfred asked: "You thought it would be unsafe for her bandying names about?"

Mr Gormley replied: "I mean talking about that in general, you wouldn't want people going around talking about it."

'Total disbelief'

He added that he never heard anything bad about any member of the Hughes family until the migrant deaths.

Mr Alfred suggested the tragedy had sent a "shockwave through the industry".

Mr Gormley said there was "total disbelief this had happened", adding: "I was just shocked, to be honest."

Jurors have been told that a number of individuals have already been convicted of their part in the people-smuggling operation.

Hughes and Romanian Gheorghe Nica were said to have been in charge of a network of drivers "willing and able" to take lorry loads of migrants to the UK.

Mr Gormley denies a single charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. The trial continues.

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