Final hours of migrants trapped inside lorry recorded in tragic phone calls

The desperate final hours of 39 Vietnamese migrants who died in the back of a lorry were recorded in heartbreaking phone calls from inside.

Irish truck driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, and Gheorghe Nica, 43, are accused of the manslaughter of the Vietnamese migrants who were found dead in a trailer in Grays, Essex, last October.

A trial at the Old Bailey has heard the harrowing details of the last moments of their lives.

Dying victim Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, left a message for his wife, children and mother at 7.37pm after the phone signal in the trailer cut out.

He 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."

They tried in vain to call for help from the outside world but their bodies were not discovered until the following morning, the jury was told.

At shortly before 7pm on October 22 a call was made to 113, which jurors were told is the equivalent of the 999 emergency services in Vietnam.

Another male victim left a message saying: "I can't breathe. I'm sorry. I have to go now." After a long pause he added: "It's all my fault."

Moments later another voice could be heard saying: "He's dead."

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The temperature inside the container had jumped to 35C by 6.25pm, and the court was shown photos taken by 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My after the heat began to reach the "unbearable" highs.

By 6.59pm, another victim had attempted to call emergency services, the court heard.

Prosecutor Emlyn Jones 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.

Data from the victims' phones placed them in various locations around Brussels and Paris the day they died, suggesting they travelled northbound to the Belgian border before making the fateful trip to the UK.

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The prosecution claimed Harrison 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.

Passerby Laetitia Mockelyn is said to have witnessed the meeting, seeing the Vietnamese nationals "run into" their temporary shelter before jumping into the back of a lorry shortly after.

Mr Jones said: "She (Ms Mockelyn) refers to the people she saw as 'migrants', because no doubt what was going on was obvious."

He went on to say: "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.

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"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 estimated 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 was told.

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The Clementine – the cargo ship on which the trailer had sailed – docked at Purfleet, Essex, just after midnight on October 23 and was picked up by lorry driver Maurice Robinson at 1.07am.

The migrants are thought to have died at around 10 to 10.30pm, the court heard.

Nica and Harrison deny manslaughter.

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 to being part of a people-smuggling plot.

Among them are 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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