Man admits 40 offences in 2019 lorry deaths investigation

An eleventh person has been convicted for his part in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals discovered in the back of a lorry in Grays four years ago.

Marius Mihai Draghici, 49, was arrested in Romania in August 2022 and extradited to the UK to face charges of 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

On Friday June 23, Draghici admitted all charges during a hearing at the Central Criminal Court.

He will be sentenced on a date yet to be fixed.

The men, women and children were found unresponsive in the trailer of a lorry by its driver, in Eastern Avenue, Grays, in the early hours of Wednesday October 23, 2019.

The lorry had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Purfleet. Each of the victims, and their families, had paid significant sums of money to an organised criminal group whose members promised them safe passage to the UK.

However, that promise turned to tragedy and the victims suffocated in the back of the lorry which was being driven by Northern Irishman Maurice Robinson.

Draghici’s role was to be involved in the onward transportation of the migrants once they arrived in the UK.

After Draghici, there is one remaining case. Caolan Gormley, 25, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, is charged with one count of conspiracy to assist illegal immigration. His trial is expected to take place in November. He has been bailed from court with conditions.

Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe, who is leading the investigation, said: “This is the most complex investigation ever undertaken by Essex Police and we have never lost sight of the far-reaching impact the events of October 2019 has had.

“Each of the people inside the lorry container were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. They have family who feel their loss acutely each and every day.

“Draghici’s pleas show that the evidence we were able to present was so overwhelming that he was left with very little option but to admit his guilt and he is the eleventh person to be convicted for their part in this tragic incident.”

DCI Metcalfe added: “Draghici left the UK after October 23, 2019 and remained hidden in Europe until August 2022. We have always maintained that the actions we believed Draghici was responsible for could never go unpunished. We now know they will not, and he is facing a significant amount of time in prison.

Det Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper, who has overseen the investigation, said: “We made a promise to the families of our 39 victims that we would deliver justice – and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

Mick Ferris

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