19 people to be tried in French court after 39 migrants found dead in lorry

Nineteen people will be tried before a criminal court in Paris in the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found asphyxiated in a lorry in England in 2019. According to judicial sources who spoke to Franceinfo confirming information from Le Parisien, of the 19 men indicted in this investigation in France, 6 are in pre-trial detention, 11 are under judicial supervision and 2 are on the run.

They are being prosecuted for “assisting the illegal entry and residence of a foreigner in France as an organised gang” (an offence punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 euros), and for “conspiracy with a view to committing offences punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment”.

The case was partially dismissed for the offences of “trafficking in human beings by an organised gang”, in accordance with the prosecutor’s request, as the investigation did not prove that the smugglers intended to exploit the victims’ bodies or labour once they reached their destination, according to the judicial source.

Four of the defendants will also be tried for the “involuntary murders” of 39 Vietnamese nationals, in a “manifestly willful breach of a special duty of care or security imposed by law or regulation”.

The suspects took part in organising their passage from France to the United Kingdom by taking them across the English Channel in a lorry used to transport goods.

The offence is punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 7,500 euros.

On 23 October, 2019, 39 Vietnamese were found dead inside a refrigerated lorry in east London.

They had boarded the truck the day before, near Dunkirk before the lorry embarked at Zeebrugge in Belgium.

The eight women and 31 men died of heat and asphyxiation because the cooling system had been disabled and there was no ventilation.

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Two years later, on January 19, 2022, the alleged leader of the smuggling network was sentenced in Belgium to 15 years in prison – the maximum sentence – for playing a leading role in the trafficking that led to the deaths of his 39 compatriots.

In 2021, four other people involved with the people smuggling operation, were jailed for a total of 78 years in Britain.

The Old Bailey heard how migrants desperately tried to raise the alarm as they ran out of air.

The migrants, two aged just 15, were found dead by lorry driver Maurice Robinson in Grays, Essex.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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