Northern Ireland pair jailed over lorry deaths must pay back thousands of criminal earnings

Northern Ireland pair jailed over lorry deaths must pay back thousands of criminal earnings

TWO men from Northern Ireland who were jailed over the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in a lorry in 2019 have been ordered to pay back thousands of pounds from their criminal earnings.

Maurice Robinson, 26, of Laurel Drive, Craigavon, was sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison for 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and acquiring criminal property.

Christopher Kennedy 24, of Corkley Road, Darkley, Co. Armagh, was sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Thirty-nine people died in the lorry due to oxygen starvation (Image: Essex Police)

Following Proceeds of Crime Act hearings, Robinson was ordered to pay back £21,262, while Kennedy was told he must pay back £6,094.

Two others men jailed over the tragedy were also subject to confiscation orders.

Valentin Calota, 38, of Cossingham Road, Birmingham, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and was ordered to pay £1,137.

Alexandru-Ovidiu Hangu, 29, of Hobart Road, Tilbury, was sentenced to three years for the same offence and must pay £3,000.

Oxygen starvation

The four men were part of an illegal people-smuggling operation of Vietnamese men, women and children, aged between 15 and 44, who were found dead on October 22, 2019.

The victims died of oxygen starvation after being sealed in an air-tight lorry container for nearly 12 hours.

During the investigation, which saw eight people convicted, it was discovered that significant sums of money were made from this exploitation.

"Maurice Robinson, Christopher Kennedy, Valentin Calota and Alexandru-Ovidiu Hangu profited from smuggling people into the country, a practice which ended in 39 people dying in the most horrible circumstances," said Specialist Prosecutor Darren Fox of the CPS.

"The CPS, working with police financial investigators, found the four profited alongside other co-conspirators from this incident.

"However, we will never know the true extent of the benefit from this tragedy.

"The confiscation order set by the Judge reflects the assets available to the three defendants.

"We will continue to enforce the confiscation orders robustly and ensure that the money will be paid as compensation to the bereaved families."

'Immoral and dangerous'

Senior Investigating Officer for Essex Police, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe, said the men profited while gambling with people's lives.

"These men thought they could make a comfortable living by putting the lives of vulnerable people at risk," she said.

"What they did was immoral and dangerous, and I welcome the order made by the courts that prohibits them from retaining money generated through ill-gotten means.

"These orders once again demonstrate the lengths we will go to at Essex Police to deliver justice to the families of those who lost their lives in the most tragic of ways.

"Whilst I appreciate a court order will not bring their loved ones back, I hope our ongoing determination to bring those involved in this dangerous people smuggling operation to justice brings some comfort.

"My thoughts will always be with the families of the victims."