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Caledon haulier Caolan Gormley convicted in investigation linked to Essex lorry deaths

Caolan Gormley
Caolan Gormley

A Caledon haulier linked to people smugglers responsible for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals has been found guilty of a human trafficking offence.

Caolan Gormley, 26, is the eleventh person to be convicted as a result of Essex Police’s complex and far-reaching investigation.

The police investigation was launched in the early hours of Wednesday, October 23, 2019, when the 39 Vietnamese men, women and children were found unresponsive in the trailer of a lorry by its driver, in Eastern Avenue, Grays, Essex.

The lorry, which was being driven by Co Armagh man, Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Purfleet, in Essex.

Each of the 39 victims, and their families, had paid significant sums of money to an organised criminal group whose members promised them safe passage to the UK and a life here.

That promise to the 39 individuals and their families, however, turned to tragedy when they were found unresponsive in October 2019. They died in the most inhumane way, because of the actions of a greed-driven gang of people smugglers.

The police investigation, alongside the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other international partners, has been far-reaching and has uncovered an international human trafficking conspiracy, which has ultimately led to the conviction of 11 people in the UK as well as 18 people earlier this month in France.

Gormley was one of a number of “willing” hauliers who worked under smugglers Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica, both of whom have previously been convicted and jailed.

Gormley was a close associate of Hughes and oversaw the work of the also-convicted Co Armagh lorry driver Christopher Kennedy.

He was involved in three specific plans to bring migrants to the UK in the back of lorries.

On one occasion, the lorry was stopped at the French border. On the other two, migrants were successfully unloaded at Collingwood Farm, a rural location in Orsett, Essex.

There is no evidence to suggest Gormley was directly involved in the specific incident which led to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants. However, he was involved in the wider people trafficking conspiracy.

During the early hours of October 23, 2019, Maurice Robinson, who was driving the lorry in which the migrants were found, called his boss, Ronan Hughes, before dialling 999.

Calls from Hughes to Gormley soon followed but went unanswered and connected for short periods on voicemail, with short messages left.

Later in the morning, from 5.47am, contact is made between Kennedy and Gormley. They then spoke at 6.40am.

In a later text exchange between Gormley and another associate, Gormley is asked who owns the lorry in which the migrants were found, to which he replied: “Don’t know and neither do u”.

Gormley was arrested in February 2020 and was charged with conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration.

He denied the charge, arguing the only criminality he was involved in with the group was to bring alcohol into the UK in such a way as to evade duty.

However, the jury took just one hour unanimously rejected that defence and found Gormley guilty after a two-week trial was held at the Central Criminal Court, in London.

Gormley was remanded into custody, to be sentenced at the same court on Friday, December 1.

Ruthless in their financial greed

Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: “For more than four years, we have never lost sight of the far-reaching impact the events of October 2019 have had – here in Essex and, most acutely, in Vietnam, where families still live with this tragic loss. Today, our thoughts remain with them.

“The journey of those 39 people began 8,000 miles away. It was a journey they thought would bring them hope and a better life in the UK.

“Tragically, that was not to be and on 22 October 2019, the 39 men, women and children aged between 15 and 44 were loaded into the back of a lorry in northern Europe. That lorry was then loaded onto a cargo ship bound for Purfleet in Essex.

“Each one of them husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

“Our priority has always been to ensure that those directly involved in the tragic journey overnight between 22 and 23 October are caught, prosecuted and ultimately punished.

“The people who were part of this international network were ruthless in their financial greed – their behaviour and their actions are reprehensible. They have shown no regard for the law and, most importantly, the value of human life.

“Gormley was not a direct participant in the fatal journey, but it has always been clear to us that he was a key part in the wider conspiracy to traffic vulnerable people into the UK. He received payment to traffic and exploit people who were desperate – and who had paid significant sums.”

Promise to deliver justice

DCI Metcalfe added: “We have consistently promised the families of the 39 victims that we would deliver justice in its entirety. We have been committed to hunting down every person we know to have been involved.

“In Essex and with international partners, we have done that. The investigation has broken up a sophisticated international criminal operation and it has seen the conviction of 11 people here in the UK as well as 18 people earlier this month in France.

“This investigation, led by those before me, has been complex and far-reaching I am humbled to work alongside such formidable detectives.

“Out of this tragedy has grown a special relationship with the county of Vietnam and its people and that is a relationship which will forever remain important to us.

“As this final guilty verdict is reached, we think of our Vietnamese friends and the families of the victims. But most of all we think of the 39 people who will never leave our hearts here at Essex Police.”

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