Romanian people smuggler jailed after 39 migrants died in Essex lorry horror

A Romanian people smuggler has been found guilty of manslaughter over the fatal plot to sneak Vietnamese migrants into Britain which ended with 39 people being discovered dead in the back of a lorry in Essex four years ago. 

Marius Mihai Draghici, 50, entered a guilty plea at the Old Bailey back in June to all counts of manslaughter as well as the charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Branded a “right-hand man” in the people-smuggling network, Draghici escaped back to Romania shortly after the bodies of the migrant were found. 

He was eventually arrested by Romanian police last August before being sent back to the UK to stand trial. 

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Draghici was sentenced on Tuesday to more than 12 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction with a further four years and two months for the immigration offence. 

The terrible discovery was made early hours of Wednesday, October 23, 2019, when the driver of a lorry discovered the Vietnamese men, women and children unresponsive inside the trailer on Eastern Avenue, Greys, Essex.

The vehicle had travelled from Zeebrugge, Belgium to the Essex port of Purfleet.

Tragically, each victim and their families had paid large sums of money to the organised criminal organisation that had promised them safe passage to the United Kingdom and a better life. 

This promise, however, turned into a tragedy when the victims suffocated in the back of the lorry.

During the trial, the judge Honourable Mr Justice Garnham told the court that the 39 victims had suffered an “agonising” death. 

He added that Draghici had been a “small but essential cog” in the people smuggling plot.

Mr Justice Garnham described the plot as being run by an organised criminal enterprise for the pursuit of profit and willingly put migrants at risk of death.

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Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe, who is leading the Essex Police investigation said: “For more than three years, we have never lost sight of the far-reaching impact the events of October 2019 has had, both here in Essex and, most acutely, in Vietnam.

“Each of the people inside the lorry container were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. They have family who feel their loss acutely each and every day.

“Today is a significant day. Draghici knew the evidence that we were able to present was overwhelming. He had no option but to admit his involvement.

“Draghici left the UK after October 23 2019 and remained hidden in Europe until August 2022. We have always maintained that the actions we believed he was responsible for could never go unpunished. We now know they will not.”

NCA Deputy Director International Tom Dowdall said: “Marius Draghici and his criminal associates were responsible for the deaths of 39 men, women and children in horrific circumstances.

“It was an appalling example of just how callous people-smuggling gangs are, who are prepared to risk the lives of those they transport for financial gain.

“NCA officers in the UK and overseas worked closely with Essex Police and our international partners to ensure Draghici was tracked down in Romania and brought back to the UK to face justice.

“Cases like this make us even more determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the organised criminal networks involved in people smuggling. Stopping them is one of the NCA’s top priorities.”

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