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Essex migrant deaths lorry driver part of a 'global ring', court hears

PUBLISHED: 13:48 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:58 28 October 2019

Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson on video-link at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court, Essex, where he has been remanded in custody after being charged with the manslaughter of 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container in Essex  Picture: ELIZABETH COOK / PA

Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson on video-link at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court, Essex, where he has been remanded in custody after being charged with the manslaughter of 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container in Essex Picture: ELIZABETH COOK / PA

A lorry driver accused of manslaughter was part of a "global ring" who smuggle large numbers of people into the UK, a court has heard.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the chief constable of Essex Police, Ben-Julian Harrington, as he lays flowers during a visit to Thurrock Council offices in Essex after the bodies of 39 people were found in a lorry container last week  Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU / PAPrime Minister Boris Johnson with the chief constable of Essex Police, Ben-Julian Harrington, as he lays flowers during a visit to Thurrock Council offices in Essex after the bodies of 39 people were found in a lorry container last week Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU / PA

Maurice Robinson, 25, was arrested after the bodies of eight women and 31 men, believed to be Chinese and Vietnamese, were found in the refrigerated trailer attached to his Scania cab in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, in the early hours of October 23.

Robinson, known as Mo, appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court on Monday via video link.

His hearing coincided with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's visit to Thurrock Council offices in Essex to sign a book of condolence to the victims.

The tragic discovery last week has sparked a huge international investigation to identify the victims.

Police outside Chelmsford Magistrates' Court, Essex, where lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25 appeared  Picture: GARETH FULLER/PA WIREPolice outside Chelmsford Magistrates' Court, Essex, where lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25 appeared Picture: GARETH FULLER/PA WIRE

Authorities face difficulties in identifying them, with very few possessing identification documents - forcing detectives to use fingerprints, scars and tattoos to trace their loved ones.

Their bodies are now at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford ahead of post-mortem examinations.

Robinson is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter of persons unknown, conspiracy to traffic people between December 1 2018 and October 24 2019 and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between the same dates.

He was further charged with one count of acquiring criminal property and one count of concealing criminal property, both between December 1 2018 and October 24 2019.

At Robinson's brief court appearance, prosecutor Ogheneruona Iguyovwe described the conspiracy charges as "a global ring" involving "the movement of a large number of illegal immigrants into the UK".

Robinson spoke only to give his name, his address as Laurel Drive in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, and his nationality as British.

He was not asked to indicate a plea and will next appear at the Old Bailey on November 25 for a plea and trial preparation hearing.

District Judge Timothy King remanded Robinson into custody, saying: "You have heard the nature of the allegations you face and the majority of these can only be dealt with in the crown court."

Robinson's solicitor Julian Hayes made no application for bail.

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