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Irish truck driver pleads guilty over Vietnamese migrant deaths in U.K.

A 40-year-old Irish hauler has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men, women and boys found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck near London last year.

40-year-old is second man to plead guilty in shocking case that shone light on human smuggling

Forensic police officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain 39 bodies in Grays, south England, on Oct. 23, 2019. A second man has pleaded guilty in the deaths of the Vietnamese migrants being smuggled in the truck. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

A 40-year-old Irish hauler pleaded guilty on Friday to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese men, women and boys found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck near London last year.

Ronan Hughes became the second man to plead guilty over a case that shocked Britain and Vietnam and shone a light on the illicit human smuggling trade. The other is Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, who was driving the truck when the bodies were found.

Appearing at a full Old Bailey courtroom in London, Hughes stood in the dock facing the judge as the names of the 31 men and boys and eight women were read out. He admitted each charge in a process that took more than 10 minutes.

Hughes also admitted conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Bui Van Diep holds a portrait of his sister Bui Thi Nhung as her casket is brought to Phu Thang church in the village of Do Thanh, Vietnam, on Dec. 1, 2019. The 19-year old Nhung was among the victims found in the truck. (Hau Dinh/The Associated Press)

Most of those who died, who were between the ages of 15 and 44, were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in north-central Vietnam, where poor job prospects, environmental disasters and the promise of financial reward abroad fuel migration.

Their bodies were discovered last October in a container at the back of a truck on an industrial estate in Grays in Essex, about 30 kilometres east of London.

A third man, Eamonn Harrison, 23, also from Northern Ireland, pleaded not guilty to the same charges.

A trial is due to begin on Oct. 5.

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