One of the lorry drivers involved in a suspected conspiracy to traffic human beings into the UK were allegedly being paid up to €1,000 per trafficked person, the High Court has heard.
The details emerged during a hearing into the proposed extradition to the UK of Eamon Harrison (23) from Mayobridge, Co Down, who is wanted for his alleged role in transporting a refrigerated trailer in which 39 migrants were found dead in Essex, in October.
British authorities are seeking the surrender of Mr Harrison to face 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and conspiracy to commit human trafficking under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.
It is alleged that Mr Harrison transported the refrigerated trailer in which the bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in an industrial park in Grays, Esssex on October 23 last.
He is alleged to have delivered the trailer to a Belgian port before it’s onward journey to Britain, where it was collected from the Port of Purfleet, Essex by Maurice Robinson (25), from Craigavon, Co Armagh, who was arrested by Essex police at the scene.
Mr Harrison, a dual Irish-British citizen, was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant and is fighting his proposed extradition to the UK through the Irish High Court.
The court heard on Thursday that recordings found on mobile phones belonging to the 39 migrants found dead in the refrigerated trailer suggest some of them were still alive after entering UK territorial water at 19.42pm on October 22. Multiple voices could be heard on the recordings.
Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Ronan Kennedy SC, told the High Court today that the case as alleged against Mr Harrison couldn’t be “any clearer”.
Mr Kennedy alleged that Mr Harrison was “integrally involved” in a conspiracy to traffic illegal Vietnamese immigrants into the UK since as early as 2018.
According to information provided by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service, Mr Kennedy told the court that Mr Harrison and another named individual were “recruited” to do this by another man. One of the drivers was being paid €1,000 per trafficked person and on one occasion was paid €20,000, Mr Kennedy said.
Mr Harrison was allegedly stopped on a previous occasion in May 2018 pulling a trailer containing 18 migrants, Mr Kennedy told the court.
Later that year, a trailer containing migrants was taken to a location where they were collected by cars described by witnesses as a “fleet of Mercedes” cars, according to Mr Kennedy.
In another incident, following the collection of illegal migrants from a trailer by cars, there was an “operation” to clean the trailer before delivery of the consignment’s legitimate load. Mr Kennedy said the intended recipients of the legitimate consignment refused to accept the load due to signs that human beings had been in the trailer.
In relation to the 39 migrants found dead in Essex, in October, Mr Harrison and his alleged coconspirators “knew they were in the trailer”, Mr Kennedy contended. The had been locked into a sealed container and were left unaccompanied for nine hours on a sea crossing that resulted in their unfortunate deaths.
Mr Harrison drove the truck that pulled the trailer, and booked it in, Mr Kennedy said. Shortly after the arrest of Mr Harrison’s coconspirators, there was telephone contact between Mr Harrison and another individual.
Mr Harrison did not immediately return to Ireland, Mr Kennedy said, and he did not contact law enforcement agents despite the fact he had transported the trailer in which the bodies of 39 people were found.
Mr Kennedy said the case being made by the Crown Prosecutions Service was that the deaths occurred in the UK and it was wrong for the court to speculate that some died before entering UK territorial waters.
On the basis of Mr Harrison’s citizenship, he said extra territoriality did not arise.
In relation to the manslaughter charges, Mr Kennedy said Mr Harrison clearly acted with intention and had “a guilty mind”.
Reserving judgment, Mr Justice Donald Binchy said he wished to give his decision “promptly”.
Mr Harrison was remanded in custody to January 24 next when a judgment is expected to be delivered.
On Thursday, Mr Harrison’s lawyers said there was an issue in relation to territoriality and it was unclear whether Mr Harrison is to be prosecuted for offences committed inside the UK or in Belgium.
His barrister, Siobhán Stack SC, said it was not alleged that Mr Harrison placed the deceased into the trailer. It was not alleged that Mr Harrison knew the people were in the trailer nor that there were 39 of them.
It was simply alleged that Mr Harrison transported the trailer but there was nothing to say where the people were collected, who collected them or who put them in the trailer, she added.
There were too many “critical missing facts” and the High Court was being asked to fill in too many blanks, she submitted.
Ms Stack said the original warrant was rendered fundamentally defective by an “extreme lack of information”. She said the warrant was “so brief, perhaps rushed”, that information “simply wasn’t given” and was “contradictory” in certain parts.
In response to the High Court’s request for additional information, Ms Stack said the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service had “effectively rewritten the warrant”, which wasn’t permitted.
Furthermore, “virtually” all of the additional information given to the High Court had come from the Crown Prosecution Service, and not the issuing judicial authority as it should have been, Ms Stack submitted. She said extradition law required the information to come from a judicial authority that was independent in the exercise of it’s functions.