Desperate 'open up' cries as Vietnamese migrants suffocated in lorry container, trial told

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·3-min read
Four people are on trial after 39 migrants were found dead in the back of a lorry. (PA/Elizabeth Cook)
Four people are on trial after 39 migrants were found dead in the back of a lorry. (PA/Elizabeth Cook)

Cries of “open up, open up” could be heard as Vietnamese migrants, found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex last year, struggled for breath, a court has heard.

Jurors at the Old Bailey have been told the 39 people died in hot temperatures while sealed in a container as part of an alleged human smuggling plot.

The trailer had a “decomposing smell” noticed by a cargo operator when it arrived in Purfleet at about 11.50pm on 22 October, 2019, more than eight hours after it left Zeebrugge in Belgium, the court heard.

A young Vietnamese woman took selfies on her phone showing the conditions inside at 6.25pm, while others inside tried to make phone calls.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Gheorghe Nica (left) and Eamonn Harrison (right) two of four men to face trial, at the Old Bailey in London, for being part of an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the death of 39 migrants in a lorry in Essex.
Gheorghe Nica (left) and Eamonn Harrison (right) are accused of being part of an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the death of 39 migrants in a lorry in Essex. (PA/Elizabeth Cook)

One migrant unsuccessfully tried to call the Vietnamese police, the Old Bailey heard on Tuesday.

Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, said in a recorded message to his family: “I’m sorry. I cannot take care of you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I cannot breathe.

“I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.”

Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, said in another recording: “I cannot breathe. I’m sorry, I have to go now.”

Watch: CCTV of moment driver discovered bodies in trailer shown at trial

A voice can be heard in the background saying: “Come on everyone. Open up, open up.”

Another recording from the 20-year-old includes a clip where a voice in the background says: “He’s dead.”

The court heard that carbon dioxide in the trailer reached the “toxic threshold” at some point between 10pm and 10.30pm.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Christopher Kennedy (left) and Valentin Calota (right) two of four men to face trial, at the Old Bailey in London, for being part of an alleged people-smuggling ring linked to the death of 39 migrants in a lorry in Essex.
Christopher Kennedy (left) and Valentin Calota (right) are on trial at the Old Bailey. (PA/Elizabeth Cook)

Jurors have previously been told how the container holding the migrants would have become “unbearable”, reaching a temperature of 38.5C.

They would not have had fresh air for nearly 12 hours, the Old Bailey heard previously.

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones compared the container to a “tomb” and said the migrants would have died from oxygen starvation and the effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – essentially, the victims would have suffocated.

The court has also heard that, with migrants desperate to get to the UK, the price to be smuggled over the Channel is about £10,000.

Eamonn Harrison, 23, of County Down, Northern Ireland, is accused of picking up the migrants in his trailer and taking them to Zeebrugge, Belgium, where he dropped it off on 22 October, 2019.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands with the Chief Constable of Essex Police, Ben-Julian Harrington, as he lays flowers during a visit to Thurrock Council Offices in Essex after the bodies of 39 people were found in a lorry container last week.
Boris Johnson was among those to pay respects to the deceased. (PA)

Gheorghe Nica, of Basildon, and Harrison deny manslaughter.

Harrison, Christopher Kennedy, a 24-year-old lorry driver from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, deny being part of a wider people smuggling conspiracy.

Nica has admitted to being part of a smuggling conspiracy.

The trial continues.

Watch: Haulier pleads guilty in Essex lorry deaths