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Essex lorry deaths: Accused Eamonn Harrison 'naive and gullible'

image copyrightPolice Handout
image captionEamonn 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 "naive and gullible".

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.

Giving evidence at the Old Bailey, Mr Harrison told jurors: "I did not know I was involved in people smuggling."

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

The trial has heard 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, Mr Harrison has claimed he agreed to deal with stolen lorry parts as he owed Mr Hughes over a drink-drive accident.

image captionPham Thi Tra My, 26, and Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, were among those who died

Mr Harrison has told the jury he was watching Netflix with his curtains drawn as people were allegedly loaded into his trailer on 22 October.

On 18 October, a delivery of macaroons and Bakewell tarts, transported in the same trailer as people, were rejected due to human contamination.

Bill Emlyn Jones, prosecuting, told Mr Harrison: "You have dreamt up stolen lorry parts because on this night a load of illegal immigrants were smuggled in your trailer."

Mr Harrison replied that it was "without my knowledge".

The prosecutor asked what he had talked about in a seven-minute call with Mr Hughes on 18 October.

Mr Harrison replied: "I cannot remember exactly. I know he did tell me the load had been rejected and the trailer was coming back to me."

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

Mr Emlyn Jones suggested "here are two people engaged in people-smuggling talking about their people-smuggling", which Mr Harrison denied, telling jurors: "I was naive and gullible. I was to work off the debt with reduction in wage.

"It would have taken me a year. I did not know I was involved in people smuggling."

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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Related Topics

  • Purfleet
  • Grays

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