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Essex lorry deaths: Bodies of migrants ‘were so tightly packed they couldn’t be checked for signs of life’, court hears

The bodies of 39 migrants found dead in a lorry trailer in Essex were so closely packed together the first policeman on the scene could not check them all for signs of life, a court has heard.

PC Jack Emerson told the Old Bailey how he and a colleague were sent to an industrial park after an emergency call from lorry driver Maurice Robinson.

Robinson, 26, had picked up the trailer from Purfleet docks after it was transported from Zeebrugge in Belgium, the Old Bailey heard.

The court was shown CCTV of marked police cars arriving in Eastern Avenue, Thurrock, where PC Emerson described seeing Robinson’s lorry parked with the rear trailer door open.

“I could see numerous half-naked bodies laying on the floor motionless,” he described.

“It became apparent the entire trailer was full of bodies. All appeared half-naked, their bottom halves clothed. All the bodies were intact.”

When police arrived on the scene at 1.50am, Robinson was “just standing there” and appeared calm, according to PC Emerson.

Four men are on trial over the deaths of the Vietnamese migrants, who were found in the back of a lorry trailer in Grays, Essex, in October last year.

PC Emerson said the bodies, which appeared Asian, did not seem to have been there long and he could find no signs of decomposition.

“There was however a strange smell coming from the trailer that smelt like chemicals,” he said.

“There was also smoke condensation coming from the rear of the trailer which suggested to me that the trailer was refrigerated.”

He and his colleague went through the trailer checking for signs of life, pulses and chest movements, but they found none.

“It wasn’t possible to check all the bodies. They were too closely packed together, mostly lying on their backs,” he said.

He said some of them appeared to be “frothing from the mouth” and some were warm.

The court heard that later that morning, another lorry driver on trial over the deaths, Christopher Kennedy, exchanged texts with a contact about the incident.

The friend asked: “Who’s is the BG yoke got in Essex with the bodies?”

Kennedy named Haulage boss Ronan Hughes, adding: “Some mess.”

Asked what happened, he replied: “Dunno must have been 2 meany and run out of air (sic).”

The friend wrote: “End of the road for him and drive.”

Kennedy added: “He never see day light again.”

Earlier, the court was told how the migrants would have been cut off from the world as soon as the trailer doors were closed.

Some of them repeatedly attempted to make phone calls, with one unsuccessfully dialling the emergency number for Vietnamese police as they struggled to breathe.

Jurors heard that the Vietnamese nationals, aged 15 to 44, were pronounced dead at 2:40am on October 23.

Robinson and Hughes, 41, have admitted manslaughter of the migrants.

Lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, who dropped the trailer off at Zeebrugge, has denied 39 counts of manslaughter along with Nica, 43.

Harrison, Kennedy, 24, and Valentin Calota, 37, have denied being part of a wider people-smuggling conspiracy, which Nica has admitted to.

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