Two children whose parents died in Essex lorry look at their photo each day

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Two young children whose parents died holding hands as they were suffocated in the trailer of a lorry still look at their photo every day, a court has heard.

Harrowing statements were read to the Old Bailey today from families of the migrants who died as they were smuggled in a container from Belgium to Essex.

Four people-smugglers were convicted last month of the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants who suffocated in the back of the airtight lorry.

The victims, aged between 15 and 44, were being shipped to Purfleet in Essex from Belgium on October 23 2019.

As the three-day sentencing hearing began today, statements from the bereaved families were read to the court.

Tran Hai Loc flew to Hungary with his wife Nguyen Thi Van, both 35, to become fruit pickers before travelling to the UK.

Their seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl keep pictures of their parents by an ‘altar’ and still look at them, the court heard.

Father of Tran Hai Loc, Tran Dinh Thanh, said: “They were found lying next to each other in the trailer. Their [death] makes the whole family very sad.

“We do not want to meet or talk with any people around. At the moment their children are very small, this incident will affect their future.

“Every day, when they come home from school, they always look at the photos of their parents on the altar.”

Police said the married couple were found clutching each other’s hand side by side surrounded by compatriots in the pitch-black trailer.

The court went on to hear how fifteen-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung’s parents had been left ‘numb’ and ‘constantly grieving.’

The youngster tragically made the crossing after training as a hairdresser to be with his mother and father when they were living in the UK.

The impoverished family have since been plunged into poverty, relying on the Vietnamese Catholic Church for ‘help to survive.’

They told how they still stay up until dawn, unable to sleep and looking at their son’s picture.

In a poignant statement the parents said: “We were very shocked, trembled, we lost track and awareness of our surroundings. My wife had fainted many times whenever our son’s name was mentioned.

“We did not believe it was the truth until we saw his body by our own eyes at the seeing in the hospital.

“We were under severe pain when we saw his body at the hospital. We felt numb and that feeling lasted for many weeks later.”

Four people-smugglers were convicted last month of the manslaughter of 39 migrants who were suffocated in the back of an airtight lorry.

The Vietnamese victims, aged between 15 and 44, suffocated in a container as they were shipped to Purfleet in Essex from Belgium on October 23 2019.

Romanian ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Basildon, and truck driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from County Down, were found guilty of 39 counts of manslaughter and plotting to people smuggle following a trial at the Old Bailey.

Haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Armagh, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson, of Craigavon, admitted the offences.

They will be sentenced over three days alongside Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, Valentin Calota, 38, from Birmingham, Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, from Essex and Gazmir Nuzi, 42, of Tottenham, north London, who were convicted of their role in smuggling.

The maximum sentence for people-smuggling is 14 years in prison, with manslaughter carrying a possible life sentence.

During the trial jurors heard how the gang charged around £13,000 a head for a “VIP” smuggling service to Vietnamese migrants gathered in Belgium and France.

The network, led by Nica and Hughes, had been operating for at least 18 months, despite repeatedly coming to the attention of authorities.

Police identified four people-smuggling trips before the tragic run, with two being foiled by authorities.
On the morning of October 22 2019, Harrison picked up 39 migrants from Bierne in France.

His trailer was loaded on to the Clementine ship which departed from Zeebrugge at about 4pm, docking at Purfleet shortly after midnight.

Robinson, who collected the trailer at 1.08am, was instructed by Hughes via Snapchat to “give them air quickly don’t let them out”.

When he opened the doors, a plume of vapour escaped and Robinson stood for 90 seconds.

The first police officer on the scene described horrifying scenes and finding half-naked bodies “closely packed” together lying in the trailer, some “frothing at the mouth”.

Mobile phones recovered from the victims showed how they had tried to raise the alarm and left goodbye messages for loved ones as they ran out of air.

Others had used a metal pole to try to punch a hole through the roof or attract attention, the court heard.

The sentencing hearing continues.