The Timaru Herald

Transporte­rs fear border bottleneck­s will worsen Smugglers hear final pleas of migrants sealed in lorry


Border delays for traders moving goods into Northern Ireland risk spreading stock shortages across Britain within days unless action is taken, hauliers have warned.

The disruption was described as a ‘‘disaster’’ Thursday, local time.

Ministers were urged to ensure that problems such as confusion over paperwork and too few vets for inspection­s, are fixed swiftly, before trade flows rise.

‘‘It’s really worrying and it needs to be resolved quickly,’’ Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Associatio­n, said. ‘‘The volumes are low everywhere. That won’t last and can’t last.’’

Steve Rowe, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, said that the ‘‘fine print’’ of the deal with the EU would force many companies to choose between paying customs duties or relocating to the Continent.

Boris Johnson said the accord would mean ‘‘no palisade of tariffs’’, but retailers have complained of complex requiremen­ts on the specific origins of products to qualify as duty-free.

Operators seeking to transport goods into Northern Ireland have bemoaned ‘‘almost unworkable’’ processes introduced after the Brexit transition period ended on

December 31. ‘‘On the ground it’s a disaster,’’ the boss of one leading haulage firm said. ‘‘We’re just grinding to a halt.’’

The executive, who asked not to be identified for fear it would draw him into a political row, said that booking 10 trailers on to a boat used to take five minutes.

‘‘To do that now has taken us all day, with two people.’’ It was more than just teething problems, he said, and would be resolved only by fundamenta­l changes to the arrangemen­ts. ‘‘The whole system is just cumbersome. It is hindering trade,’’ he added.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, spoke to Irish industry leaders Thursday .

Many companies that stockpiled goods before Brexit are delaying imports or exports, McKenzie said. ‘‘At some point they’ll have to start trading again. That’s when the little problems we’ve got now become very large.’’

Marks & Spencer has dismissed claims that the Brexit deal means duty-free trade with the EU. ‘‘Tarifffree does not feel like tariff-free when you read the fine print,’’ Rowe said.

‘‘For big businesses there will be time-consuming workaround­s but for a lot of others this means paying tariffs or rebasing into the EU.’’ – The Times

The last pleas and agonising gasps of migrants who died in a sealed container lorry have been played in court to the smugglers responsibl­e for their deaths.

Ronan Hughes, a haulier and the gang leader, closed his eyes at the Old Bailey as phone messages from some of the 39 men, women, and children who suffocated were played.

Hughes and seven other defendants are due to be sentenced over the people-smuggling operation, which charged upwards of £13,000 (NZ$24,000) a head for a ‘‘VIP’’ service guaranteei­ng passage to Britain.

On October 23, 2019, the Vietnamese migrants travelling from Belgium to Purfleet in Essex died in sweltering temperatur­es.

One man left a message for his family. ‘‘I can’t breathe. I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.’’

In the background, a voice could be heard pleading: ‘‘Come on everyone. Open up, open up.’’

The sound of distressed people moaning and gasping as they ran out of air was evident. The victims, aged 15 to 44, had desperatel­y tried to raise the alarm, and even used a pole to try to punch through the roof of the container. Their bodies were found scattered across the floor.

Eight men have appeared in court in Britain, including Hughes, 41, of Tyholland, Co Monaghan, and Maurice Robinson, 26, a lorry driver of Craigavon, Co Armagh. They both admitted manslaught­er. Last month four men were found guilty of offences relating to the operation.

As the recordings played, Hughes sat still in the dock with his eyes shut as other defendants hung their heads.

The court was told that Robinson delayed alerting emergency services after finding the bodies while in Purfleet, Essex. But exchanged calls with Hughes and fellow ringleader Gheorghe Nica, 43, before dumping his phone.

In one conversati­on Robinson was told by Hughes to ‘‘Open the doors, give them air’’, according to his statement to police. Robinson responded: ‘‘I can’t, they’re f***ing dead.’’

He said he was ordered by Hughes to get rid of his phone. He threw the sim card down a drain and dropped the phone by the side of a road.

Seven smuggling trips were identified between May 2018 and October 23, 2019, but there are believed to have been more.

Jonathan Polnay, for the prosecutio­n, said: ‘‘These defendants were party to a sophistica­ted, longrunnin­g and profitable conspiracy to smuggle Vietnamese migrants to the United Kingdom, in the back of lorries, in a deliberate and intentiona­l breach of border control.’’

The fee was £10,000-£13,000 for the so-called VIP route, when the driver knew about the smuggled migrants inside the trailer attached to his lorry.

Robinson, who admitted being part of two smuggling trips before the deaths, told police that he received £1500 per migrant he successful­ly smuggled, and thought that he had been paid £25,000.

Last month Nica, 43, of Basildon, Essex, and Eamonn Harrison, 24, of Mayobridge, Co Down, a lorry driver, were convicted of 39 charges of manslaught­er. Christophe­r Kennedy, 24, of Darkley, Co Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 38, a driver from Romania, were convicted of conspiring to smuggle people into the country unlawfully.

The maximum sentence for people smuggling is 14 years in prison, with manslaught­er carrying a possible life sentence. The defendants will be sentenced over three days by Mr Justice Sweeney at the Old Bailey. – The Times

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Lorries are seen outside the Purfleet Thames Terminal on October 23, 2019 in Purfleet, Essex. Essex police said that a lorry containing 39 bodies, found in the nearby town of Grays, likely arrived in Purfleet overnight on a freight ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium.
GETTY IMAGES Lorries are seen outside the Purfleet Thames Terminal on October 23, 2019 in Purfleet, Essex. Essex police said that a lorry containing 39 bodies, found in the nearby town of Grays, likely arrived in Purfleet overnight on a freight ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium.

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