Driver convicted in deaths of 58 illegal migrants

A Dutch truck driver has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for manslaughter after 58 Chinese immigrants slowly suffocated to death during a six-hour ride in the back of his truck.

Perry Wacker, 32, was found guilty on all counts by a jury in England. A 29-year-old Chinese interpreter was also convicted on one count of conspiracy to smuggle immigrants. Ying Guo was sentenced to six years in prison.

The immigrants were jammed in the back of the truck with a load of tomatoes as they travelled by ferry from Belgium to England on a hot summer's day last year.

The prosecution said the driver closed the truck's only air vent to muffle noise, then left the vehicle for six hours to watch a movie and have a meal.

"This was a callous and calculated act to ensure no one could hear this human cargo during a six-hour ferry crossing," prosecutor Karen Wiseman said Thursday.

The only two immigrants to survive the ordeal told investigators they became increasingly desperate as the air ran out and the temperature soared.

"They started panicking after about two to three hours because the vent was shut and there was no air," said survivor Ke Shi Guang.

"Some people removed tomatoes and tried to kick open the doors. There was also a lot of shouting and screaming, but nobody came to help."

The bodies were discovered by shocked port officials in Dover, England. One inspector said he saw a "sea of bodies" when he opened the doors.

Wacker testified that he didn't know that the victims were in the truck, that he only took the job because he needed the cash.

The prosecution said that wasn't the case at all. They said Wacker helped to shop for the truck and the container as well as the load of tomatoes used to try to hide the migrants.

Judge Alan Moses told Wacker, "You took no care for the people in the trailer. You did not once check on them. Your failure caused them to suffocate."

The victims had paid tens of thousands of dollars each to smuggling gangs in China for the chance to begin a new life in the West.

Nine defendants are on trial in the Netherlands for the same deaths, charged with manslaughter or assisting in manslaughter.