London: Four people-smugglers were given lengthy prison sentences for the manslaughter of the 39 Vietnamese migrants, who were found dead in a refrigerated lorry in Essex county in 2019.
The Old Bailey court in London on Friday handed down the longest sentences to the two ringleaders, reports Xinhua news agency reported.
Ronan Hughes, the 41-year-old owner of an Irish road freight business, was given a 20-year sentence.
He previously pled guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiring to unlawfully bring people into the UK.
Hughes’ co-conspirator, Romanian truck mechanic Gheorghe Nica, aged 43, was given a 27-year prison term after being found guilty of manslaughter and people smuggling.
Nica had helped coordinate the transport of the migrants to the UK from Belgium.
Truck driver Eamonn Harrison, 24, from Northern Ireland was sentenced to 18 years after pleading guilty to manslaughter and people smuggling. He had collected the truck in mainland Europe and drove the container.
A second truck driver Maurice Robinson, aged 26, also from Northern Ireland, was sentenced to 13 years and four months.
Robinson collected the container when it arrived in the UK from the European continent. He pleaded guilty earlier to manslaughter and people smuggling.
During the sentencing, Judge Justice Sweeney said the victims had died excruciatingly slow deaths of asphyxia and hyperthermia, or overheating.
The court heard Robinson was paid 25,000 pounds ($34,175) in cash to pick up the container and a fee of 1,500 pounds for each migrant.
He had been instructed by Hughes to open the trailer to give the migrants air shortly after collecting it from Purfleet docks in Essex. But all 39 were found dead.
The judge said a cloud of steam that emerged from the trailer, caught on CCTV spoke volumes of the heat that was still inside the trailer.
Prosecutors said Hughes alternated between transporting legitimate cargoes of waffles, soft drinks and wine from European warehouses across, and the illegal smuggling of people, alcohol and cigarettes.