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Essex lorry deaths: Accused claims second phone is for 'girlfriends'

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image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were discovered in a refrigerated trailer on 23 October last year

A people-smuggler facing trial over the deaths of 39 migrants has told a jury he had a "burner" phone to contact his four girlfriends, not smuggling.

Gheorge Nica, 43, denies any role in the deaths of the Vietnamese nationals who were found in Grays, Essex, on 23 October 2019, the Old Bailey has heard.

He admits some people-smuggling crimes, but said he had been unaware any migrants were in the trailer in Grays.

The prosecution allege Nica used the phone to arrange people-smuggling.

The migrants, aged 15 to 44, suffocated in a sealed trailer en route from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, Essex.

Nica, from Basildon in Essex, is charged with their manslaughter.

The prosecution has alleged Nica was a key organiser who used pay-as-you-go phones for his "dirty" business.

But he said he had an unregistered phone to contact four girlfriends in and around the London area.

He said: "It's the same with other people, I have girlfriends."

The prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones suggested Nica used the phone to arrange the shipment of migrants.

The defendant denied it, saying: "If I was in people smuggling business I would buy a new phone every time, which I did not."

image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe bodies were found when the container was opened in Essex

Mr Emlyn Jones Mr Nica had used his pay-as-you-go phone to contact his co-defendant Valentin Calota.

Nica is alleged to have recruited him to pick up migrants in Essex on 18 October last year and drive them to south-east London in a van for £700.

But Nica claimed that when he offered Mr Calota the job, he told him it was a load of cigarettes, not people.

Nica and lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, of County Down, deny 39 counts of manslaughter.

Irish haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, and lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 26, have previously admitted manslaughter.

Mr Harrison, lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Mr Calota, 37, of Birmingham, have denied being part of a wider people-smuggling conspiracy, which Nica has admitted he was involved in.

The trial continues.

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