Essex lorry deaths: Co Down driver's boozy brush with police days before fatal run, court told

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The lorry where the bodies of 39 migrants were found in Grays, Essex in 2019. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images
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By Emily Pennink and Naomi Clarke, PA

A lorry driver from Co Down had a brush with police during a boozy night out in Bruges days before he was allegedly involved in the deaths of 39 migrants.

Eamonn Harrison (23) allegedly dropped off a trailer containing the Vietnamese migrants at the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium on October 22nd last year.

Another lorry driver Maurice Robinson picked up the container at Purfleet in Essex the next morning and found the bodies of the men, women and children, the Old Bailey in London heard.

CCTV image from October 18th, 2019, of Maurice Robinson (left) and Ronan Hughes at Ibis Hotel. Photo: Essex Police/PA

Jurors heard that the victims, aged between 15 and 44, had suffocated in the sealed trailer in sweltering temperatures.

On Friday – the anniversary of the deaths – jurors were told that Harrison had spent the evening of October 18th drinking in the city of Bruges in Belgium. He had dropped off a trailer at Zeebrugge the day before.

At 9.53pm he was stopped by police having been helped up by a member of the public, the court heard.

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Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones said: “He was intoxicated and was making his way back to where he was staying in a taxi.”

The following day at 9.09am, Harrison again came to the attention of authorities.Mr Emlyn Jones said: “Harrison last night had a drink in Bruges. His trailer was parked illegally since the day before.

“On police attendance the curtains were drawn and Harrison was inside the trailer changing his clothes. On request he moved the vehicle immediately.”

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Meanwhile, haulier boss Ronan Hughes, Robinson and alleged key organiser Gheorghe Nica were caught on CCTV at the Ibis Hotel in Thurrock, Essex, on the evening of October 18th.

Jurors had previously heard that two successful people smuggling runs were carried out on October 11 and October 18, days before the tragic journey.

Hughes (41) and Robinson (26) have pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter. Nica (43), of Basildon in England, and Harrison, of Co Down, deny the charges.

Harrison, lorry driver Christopher Kennedy (24), of Co Armagh, and Valentin Calota (37), of Birmingham in England, have denied being part of a wider people smuggling conspiracy, which Nica has admitted to.

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