Essex lorry deaths: Accused 'watched Netflix as migrants were loaded'

Eamonn HarrisonImage source, Police Handout
Image caption,
Eamonn Harrison, pictured at a Belgian truck stop on 22 October 2019, denies manslaughter

A lorry driver accused over the deaths of 39 migrants has told a court he was watching Netflix as people were allegedly loaded into his trailer.

Eamonn Harrison dropped off a trailer containing Vietnamese migrants at a Belgian port and they were found dead the next day in Essex, jurors heard.

Mr Harrison told the court he did not know there were people in the trailer.

The 23-year-old, of Newry, County Down, denies manslaughter and being involved in a wider people-smuggling operation.

The court had previously been told the 39 victims, aged 15 to 44, suffocated in the sealed trailer en route from Zeebrugge to Purfleet in Essex.

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

Giving evidence in an Old Bailey trial Mr Harrison told jurors he had agreed to deal with "stolen goods" as he owed Mr Hughes over a drink-drive accident.

Image caption,
Pham Thi Tra My, 26, and Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, were among the victims

The court heard on 22 October 2019 Mr Harrison parked his lorry in northern France and said he expected to take a consignment of Coca-Cola before speaking with Mr Hughes, who instead told him it would be "a load of stolen goods".

He said he waited for 30 minutes for a Romanian he knew as Alex to arrive before setting off to get breakfast at McDonald's.

Mr Harrison said: "Ronan was in contact with me to tell me to turn around and the man was there."

He said Alex was not present but another eastern European was and "he clearly knew the lorry, what it was there for".

"He goes to me, 'are you OK?' I said yes. He was telling me where he wanted me to go. His English was not really the best."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were discovered in a refrigerated trailer on 23 October last year

Mr Harrison said the man told him to "close the curtains" and "lie down" once he had moved his lorry.

He did as he was told and watched "a wee bit of Netflix" in bed, Mr Harrison told the court.

He told jurors: "I got a bang on the door. He gives me a thumbs up and I move off. That's what I did. It was fairly quick, five minutes."

Alisdair Williamson QC, defending, asked Mr Harrison: "Did you - in order to work off your debt to Mr Hughes - agree that human beings could be put in the back of your trailer?"

"No I did not," Mr Harrison replied.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones said it was "my case that you shut them into your trailer. Did you?"

Mr Harrison replied: "No I did not." When questioned further he added: "I did not know they were [in the trailer]."

Mr Harrison and Gheorge Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, deny 39 counts of manslaughter.

Mr Harrison, lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Valentin 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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