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Lawyers question warrant for Irish man wanted in UK over Essex lorry deaths

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Ronan Hughes faces extradition from the Ireland to the UK, where he will be charged with manslaughter over the deaths of the migrants last year

Migrant Channel crossing incidents

Lawyers for an Irish man facing extradition proceedings over the lorry container deaths of 39 migrants have questioned whether the alleged offences took place in the UK.

Ronan Hughes, from Silverstream, Tyholland in Co Monaghan, is challenging an attempt to extradite him to the UK to face manslaughter charges over the deaths of the Vietnamese nationals who were found dead in a refrigerated lorry container in Essex last year.

He faces 39 charges of manslaughter and a charge of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Lawyers for Hughes have said it is not clear where the alleged offences are said to have taken place.

Ronan Kennedy SC, for the State, told the court it is “abundantly clear” the offence alleged to have been committed by Hughes occurred within the UK and it has jurisdiction.

Ronan Hughes
Ronan Hughes (Essex Police/PA)

He told the hearing that the legal submission of “extraterritoriality” by Mr Hughes’ lawyers was “a complete red herring” and the court should not engage in a “fanciful debate” as to whether other States had jurisdiction to try these offences.

Hughes was arrested in Co Monaghan in April by police in the Republic of Ireland in response to a European Arrest Warrant.

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A bail hearing in Dublin heard last month that Hughes was “the ringleader and organiser” of the people-smuggling plot.

The 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in a lorry container parked on an industrial estate in Grays on October 23 last year.

Ten teenagers, including two 15-year-old boys, were among those found dead.

It is alleged the migrants had been brought into the UK illegally by Hughes and his co-conspirators.

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UK authorities say they died on UK territory while being transported from Belgium and have therefore claimed they have jurisdiction to prosecute.

Bodies found in lorry container
Candles laid out as part of the ceremony for the mass prayer and vigil for the 39 victims found dead inside the back of a truck (Yui Mok/PA)

Remy Farrell, senior counsel for Hughes, told the court it is not clear whether the alleged offences took place in the UK.

Mr Farrell said the European Arrest Warrant itself contains a narrative of the offences which are alleged to have occurred in France, Belgium, the UK and Ireland.

“The State seems to adopt the position that an offence is either extra-territorial or not, whereas a more nuanced approach is required,” he said.

“It is not a simple case of defining something as being extra-territorial or territorial, it is not an either/or scenario.

“When you look at the facts, it is clear that there is a trans-national series of alleged crimes that occurred in different countries.”

Mr Kennedy said it was clear from the contents of the arrest warrant that all the offences occurred within the UK.

“Mr Farrell’s argument does not even get off the starting blocks,” he added.

“I would invite my friend to not go down rabbit holes as to whether the offences took place on the high seas or on land.

Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice Robinson
Court artist sketch of lorry driver Maurice Robinson (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

“It is not for this court to engage in parsing and analysing in everything contained in the warrant or say something should be prosecuted in Belgium or in Ireland, especially when the UK authorities said these people died after the trailer entered the territory of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Kennedy said while Hughes’ defence has put emphasis on the alleged offences having occurred in multiple places, it does not mean the offences could be considered extra-territorial.

Last week, Eamonn Ronald Harrison, 22, of Mayobridge, Co Down, appeared in court in Dublin to appeal against his pending extradition to the UK under the terms of the EAW. Judgment has been reserved.

He is wanted to face 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

On April 8, Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter at the Old Bailey in London.

The judge fixed June 12 as the date for the full hearing of Hughes’ extradition case to be heard at the High Court in Dublin.

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