With double the usual number of migrants packed into a sealed refrigeration container to be smuggled into Britain from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, truck company owner Ronan Hughes warned driver Maurice Robinson via text that he should stop and give them air when he left the port in England. When he opened the container, they were already dead. Eamonn Harrison, a 23-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland who brought the container to Zeebrugge, was found guilty of manslaughter Monday in the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants, including two 15-year-olds, in October last year, the Guardian reports. Robinson and Gheorghe Nica, the Romanian coordinator of the operation, pleaded guilty before the trial began. Hughes pleaded guilty to manslaughter in August.
Two other members of the gang, Christopher Kennedy and Valentin Calota, were found guilty of people-smuggling, the AP reports. The gang, which recruited young truck drivers in Northern Ireland, also smuggled alcohol and cigarettes. During the 10-week trial in England, prosecutors said the gang charged migrants around $17,000 for the trip, with drivers paid around $2,000 per passenger. "They were treated worse than cattle," lead investigator Daniel Stoten said. "They treated them as just another commodity. It could have been drugs." Harrison claimed that he thought he had been smuggling stolen truck parts. The defendants will be sentenced in January, and those guilty of manslaughter could get life sentences. (As they started to suffocate, the people trapped in the container called a Vietnamese emergency number and sent farewell messages to their families.)