Container’s occupants made phone calls on fatal journey, court told

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By Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent

There were calls of “open up, open up” as 39 Vietnamese people struggled to breathe inside a sealed container bound for Britain, a court has heard.

On October 23 last year, the men, women and children, aged 15 to 44, were found dead in the trailer after it was transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex.

The Old Bailey has heard how they suffocated in temperatures of up to 38.5C (101.3F) in the pitch dark interior.

On Tuesday, jurors heard how the trailer was loaded onto the Clementine at the port of Zeebrugge at 3pm on October 22 last year.

The ship set off at 3.36pm with the container stowed on the weather deck, which was open to the elements with an outside temperature of 14C (57.2F).

At 6.25pm, a young Vietnamese woman took a series of selfies on her phone showing the sweltering conditions inside.

Over the next couple of hours, occupants attempted to make phone calls, with one calling the emergency number for Vietnamese police, without success.

In a recorded message to his family, Nguyen Tho Tuan, 25, said: “I’m sorry. I cannot take care of you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I cannot breathe.

“I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.”

In another mobile phone recording at 8.02pm, Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, said: “I cannot breathe. I’m sorry, I have to go now.”

In the background, a voice could be heard saying: “Come on everyone. Open up, open up.”

In another phone recording two minutes later, the same victim said: “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.”

A voice in the background then says: “He’s dead.”

Cargo operator Jason Rook said in a statement that he smelt a “decomposing smell” as he unloaded the trailer.

He said the Clementine arrived in Purfleet at around 11.50pm, and he had unloaded three or four containers before he got to the one in question.

He said: “As I just passed the doors and reached the left hand side of the trailer I suddenly caught a strong smell that I can only describe as a decomposing smell.”

Between 10pm and 10.30pm, it was believed that carbon dioxide in the trailer reached the “toxic threshold”, the court heard.

Eamonn Harrison, 23, of County Down, who had dropped the trailer off at Zeebrugge, has denied 39 counts of manslaughter along with alleged key organiser Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon.

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

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