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Essex lorry deaths: Driver 'told load was cigarettes not people'

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image copyrightReuters
image captionChristopher Kennedy told the Old Bailey he was told not to look in the trailer

A lorry driver accused of being part of a people-smuggling ring linked to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants has told a court he thought he was transporting cigarettes.

Christopher Kennedy allegedly collected trailers of people from Purfleet, Essex, on 11 and 18 October last year.

On October 23, another driver who collected a trailer which had travelled the same route found the 39 bodies.

Mr Kennedy denies being involved in a people-smuggling plot.

The 24-year-old, of Keady in County Armagh, told the Old Bailey his boss Caolan Gormley had asked him to lift cigarettes "for a bit of extra cash".

He said Mr Gormley told him to get a cheap phone "for picking up a load of cigarettes".

Mr Kennedy said he was never paid for any illegal load and did not know where the loads were coming from.

"I thought they were just evading duty, being smuggled in," he said.

Mr Kennedy said his boss told him to go to Orsett in Essex on 11 October after picking up the trailer from Purfleet.

He told the court he was "told to go there and stop and wait and that was it".

"I was told not to look in the trailer. Just cigarettes and that was it," he said.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe Vietnamese migrants, aged 15 to 44, suffocated in a sealed trailer en route from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet

CCTV footage of Mr Kennedy's lorry coming and going from Orsett was played to the jury.

James Scobie QC, defending, said: "We now know there was a number of people got into those vehicles. Did you see that at any stage?"

Mr Kennedy replied: "No, never."

He told the court the name of haulier boss Ronan Hughes first came up on 11 October.

When Mr Scobie asked him what he understood Mr Hughes's role to be, Mr Kennedy said: "It was his trailer, his load."

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Mr Kennedy, lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Co Down, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, have all denied being involved in a people-smuggling plot.

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

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

The court has heard Mr Gormley was arrested but was not a defendant in the case

The trial continues.

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