Romanian Smuggler Involved in the Tragic Deaths of 39 Vietnamese Migrants Receives Lengthy UK Jail Sentence
A Romanian man, Marius Mihai Draghici, has been sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison after his involvement in a people-smuggling gang led to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in the UK. Draghici, 50, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, ultimately receiving a sentence of 12 years and seven months. The migrants, ranging in age from 15 to 44, tragically suffocated in an articulated trailer that was transported from Belgium to the UK in October 2019.
This horrific incident highlighted the extreme measures that migrants are willing to undertake to reach the UK, as well as the criminal networks that exploit their desperation. The investigation into this tragedy has already resulted in the imprisonment of 10 individuals.
During the sentencing at the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court in London, Judge Neil Garnham referred to Draghici as a "small but essential cog" in the criminal conspiracy. He emphasized the profound suffering endured by the 39 victims—men, women, and children. The prosecutor, Bill Emlyn Jones, described the migrants' final hours as involving unimaginable pain and anguish.
Disturbing details emerged during the trial, including a heartbreaking call made by one of the migrants to the emergency number in Vietnam and a desperate message that read, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." These harrowing pleas demonstrate the immense suffering experienced inside the sealed truck.
The 28 men, eight women, and three boys had been enticed by the prospect of higher-paying jobs in the UK and paid between £10,000 and £13,000 for what was referred to as the "VIP" route to the UK through the use of a lorry. However, as the temperature inside the unventilated trailer rose to 38.5 Celsius (101 Fahrenheit), oxygen levels dropped, creating a toxic environment that led to their tragic deaths.
Draghici, who was extradited to the UK from Romania in late 2022, was implicated in the people-smuggling network by fellow Romanian Gheorghe Nica. After the lorry driver, Maurice Robinson, discovered the fatalities and alerted the emergency services, Draghici fled the country to evade capture.
The investigation resulted in significant sentences for several individuals involved in the smuggling operation. Robinson was sentenced to 13 years in prison in January 2021, while Eamonn Harrison, the driver who towed the trailer to Zeebrugge, received an 18-year sentence. Nica, described as one of the ringleaders, was sentenced to 27 years, and Ronan Hughes received a 20-year sentence. Six others have also been incarcerated in the UK and Belgium in connection with the case.
During the proceedings, Gillian Jones, Draghici's defense attorney, argued that her client played an operational role under direction, did not plan or organize the conspiracy, and did not directly benefit from it. Draghici fled out of fear and was deeply shocked and horrified by the events. He remained too terrified to return to the UK.
This tragic case serves as a stark reminder of the dangers migrants face when entrusting their lives to criminal organizations. The prosecution and sentencing of individuals involved in such smuggling networks are crucial to deterring these heinous crimes and protecting vulnerable individuals seeking a better life.