Eleventh conviction secured in connection with 2019 deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in Grays

The final person charged in connection with the investigation into the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in Grays four years ago has been found guilty of his part in the conspiracy.

Caolan Gormley is the eleventh person to be convicted as a result of a complex and far-reaching investigation which was launched in the early hours of Wednesday October 23, 2019, when the 39 Vietnamese men, women and children were found unresponsive in the trailer of a lorry by its driver in Eastern Avenue, Grays.

The lorry had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Purfleet.

Each of the 39 victims, and their families, had paid significant sums of money to an organised crime group whose members promised them safe passage to the UK and a life here.

That promise turned to tragedy.

The investigation, alongside the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other international partners, uncovered an international human trafficking conspiracy, which has ultimately led to the conviction of 11 people here in the UK as well as 18 people earlier this month in France.

Gormley, 26, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, was one of a number of “willing” hauliers who worked under smugglers Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica, both of whom have previously been convicted and jailed.

Gormley was a close associate of Hughes and oversaw the work of the also-convicted lorry driver Christopher Kennedy.

He was involved in three specific plans to bring migrants to the UK in the back of lorries.

On one occasion, the lorry was stopped at the French border. On the other two, migrants were successfully unloaded at Collingwood Farm, Orsett.

There is no evidence to suggest Gormley was directly involved in the specific incident which led to the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants. However, he was involved in the wider people trafficking conspiracy.

During the early hours of October 23 2019, Maurice Robinson, who was driving the lorry in which the migrants were found, called his boss, Ronan Hughes, before dialling 999.

Calls from Hughes to Gormley soon followed but went unanswered and connected for short periods on voicemail, with short messages left.

Later in the morning, from 5.47am, contact was made between Kennedy and Gormley. They then spoke at 6.40am.

In a later text exchange between Gormley and another associate, Gormley is asked who owns the lorry in which the migrants were found, to which he replied: “Don’t know and neither do u”.

Gormley was arrested in February 2020 and was charged with conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration. He denied the charge, arguing the only criminality he was involved in with the group was to bring alcohol into the UK.

However, it took the jury just one hour to unanimously rejected that defence and find Gormley guilty after a two-week trial was held at the Central Criminal Court, in London.

He was remanded into custody, to be sentenced at the same court on Friday December 1.

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: mickferris@yellowad.co.uk