‘No coincidence’ ejected migrants were among 39 later found dead, court told

Christopher Kennedy, 24, is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of being a member of a people-smuggling ring.

A sketch of Christopher Kennedy in court
A sketch of Christopher Kennedy in court

A lorry driver has agreed it was no “extraordinary coincidence” that two migrants ejected from his trailer in France turned up among the 39 dead in Essex days later.

Christopher Kennedy, 24, is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of being a member of a people-smuggling ring linked with the tragedy on October 23 last year.

Giving evidence, Kennedy admitted picking up two loads of migrants shipped to Purfleet docks from Zeebrugge on October 11 and 18 last year.

But he insisted he thought they were loads of cigarettes after agreeing with his boss Caolan Gormley to earn some extra cash.

He only realised “something was going on” after helping haulage boss Ronan Hughes tidy up boxes of crushed and trampled macaroon in his trailer on October 18, jurors heard.

Bodies found in lorry container
Damaged boxes of Mrs Crimble’s macaroons that were on the lorry of Christopher Kennedy on October 18 2019 (Essex Police/PA)

Between the two successful migrant runs, Kennedy was stopped at the Channel Tunnel entrance as he transported wine from France, jurors heard.

French border officials ejected 20 Vietnamese people from his trailer and Kennedy was sent on his way.

After lorry driver Maurice Robinson found the bodies of 39 Vietnamese people in a trailer at Purfleet on October 23, two of them were identified as having been on Kennedy’s trailer on October 14.

Cross-examining Kennedy on Tuesday, Bill Emlyn Jones said: “Two of the people discovered in your trailer ended up dead.

“You know, I suspect, perfectly well that was no coincidence.

“Those two loads must be connected and the connection must be whoever it was organised these loads of illegal migrants.”

The defendant agreed.

Mr Emlyn Jones said: “It follows that the presence of these migrants in your trailer on the 14th is not just an extraordinary coincidence.”

Kennedy said: “I don’t know that. But it looks like that, yes.”

Bodies found in lorry container
Christopher Kennedy arriving at Purfleet Port to pick up the trailer on the morning of October 11 2019 (Essex Police/PA)

The defendant said he told Mr Gormley he would be at Pidou supermarket in France before stopping there for a can of Red Bull and a baguette.

He told jurors that must have been when the migrants had clambered aboard his trailer.

Mr Emlyn Jones suggested: “You are saying this because you are hoping the jury are going to think Gormley and Hughes have got the migrants in while you are in Pidou.”

The defendant said: “I don’t know. That’s the time I stopped.”

Earlier, the defendant said he first he knew of the tragedy on October 23 via a WhatsApp message from Mr Gormley.

He went on to exchange text messages with a friend as the news began to spread.

His friend asked: “Whose is the BG (Bulgarian) yoke in Essex with the bodies?”

Kennedy replied: “Ronan Hughes”, adding that it was “some mess”.

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

When his friend commented it was the “end of the road for him”, Kennedy wrote: “He never see day light again,” referring to Hughes.

James Scobie QC, defending, asked if Kennedy knew what happened at the time of the exchange.

Kennedy told jurors: “No, I didn’t know.

“It’s just what I thought happened because it’s a refrigerated trailer, sealed airtight.”

Mr Scobie said: “Now that the news is out, what were you thinking in respect of these events?”

Kennedy said: “I was not really thinking much, to be honest, just shocked it happened.”

On his reaction to being arrested last November, he said: “I was panicking. I did not know what was going to happen. I just didn’t know what to do. I have never been in that situation before.”

Kennedy admitted he had initially lied to police, saying he was “embarrassed” and did not want his family to find out.

Mr Scobie asked: “Why was it that you decided during this case to set it all in front of the jury?”

Kennedy replied: “Because I was afraid my family would find out the truth of what I was doing. I got to the point where I had to tell the truth. I could not do it any more.”

The defence lawyer said: “Did you have any knowledge you were being tasked to bring in migrants into this country?”

Kennedy replied: “No. After the 18th I realised there some something going on.”

During his cross-examination, prosecutor Mr Emlyn Jones said: “I suggest you simply swapped one set of lies for another and you are now relying on a sham defence that you made up literally at the last minute.

Kennedy replied: “No.”

Kennedy, of Co Armagh, Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Co Down, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, have denied being involved in a people-smuggling plot.

Harrison and Gheorghe Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, deny 39 counts of manslaughter, which Hughes, 41, of Co Armagh, and Robinson, 26, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, have admitted.

The court has heard Mr Gormley was arrested but is not a defendant in the case.

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