Trucking Boss Gets 7 Years For Role In 2019 Smuggling That Led To Deaths Of 39 Vietnamese Migrants

FILE - Police escort the truck, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, as they move it from an industrial estate in Thurrock, south England, Oct. 23, 2019. The final member convicted in a London court for a migrant smuggling ring that was responsible for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese immigrants who suffocated in a shipping container was sentenced Thursday Nov. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)
FILE - Police escort the truck, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, as they move it from an industrial estate in Thurrock, south England, Oct. 23, 2019. The final member convicted in a London court for a migrant smuggling ring that was responsible for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese immigrants who suffocated in a shipping container was sentenced Thursday Nov. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

LONDON (AP) — A trucking company boss who claimed he thought he was smuggling booze into Britain was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for his role in a human trafficking ring in which 39 Vietnamese migrants suffocated in a cargo container in 2019.

Caolan Gormley was the last of 11 people to be convicted in London in the migrant smuggling scheme. Five of the suspects were convicted of manslaughter.

Gormley, 26, from Armagh, Northern Ireland, was convicted on Monday of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration by a jury that deliberated for little more than an hour in the Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey.

Judge Richard Marks said Gormley “succumbed to temptation and greed” in the lucrative smuggling business.

Gormley claimed he was being paid up to 3,500 pounds ($4,420) per truck load, the judge said, but evidence showed people paid up to 22,500 pounds ($28,418) each for what was billed as “VIP service.”

“But for those deaths, I have no doubt whatsoever that this illegal importation of illegal immigrants would have continued, as would your involvement,” Marks said.

Gormley had played a role in three shipments of migrants from mainland Europe to the United Kingdom, prosecutors said. One run ended with passengers seen jumping from the back of a truck near Orsett, England, and being driven off by awaiting vehicles. Another was intercepted by French officials, with the driver and migrants being allowed to go.

Some of those migrants later were believed to have boarded the fateful shipping container that left Belgium on Oct. 22 and landed the next day on the English coast with all 39 aboard dead.

As the temperature inside the container soared above 100 degrees F (38.5 C), the desperate people struggled to breathe and sent messages and recordings to loved ones that they thought they were going to die.

About half of those who perished were from Nghe An province in north-central Vietnam. The 28 men, eight women and three children ranged in age from 15 to 44. They included a bricklayer, a manicure technician, an aspiring beautician and a college graduate. A married couple was found lying side by side.

“Every person in that trailer had left behind a family," Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe said. “They had been promised safe passage to our shores and they were lied to. Instead, they were left to die.”

Others involved in the smuggling received sentences ranging from 10 months — for a suspect who helped migrants who made it safely to the U.K. — to decades in prison. The truck driver was sentenced to 13 years while one of the ringleaders, Ronan Hughes of Ireland, was sentenced to 20 years behind bars and his co-conspirator Gheorghe Nica of Romania, got the stiffest term — 27 years.

Another 18 people were convicted in Belgium, where the Vietnamese ringleader was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“These outcomes, however, do not change the overwhelming sense of loss and sadness,” Metcalfe said. “The family of 22-year-old Dang Huu Tuyen ... I believe spoke for all of our families when they said: ‘Our hearts are broken'.”