Ronan and Christopher Hughes named as suspects over deaths in Essex lorry

Manhunt for Essex lorry tragedy ‘killers’: Detectives name two brothers who are on the run and wanted for manslaughter and human trafficking over deaths of 39 stowaways

  • Detectives in probe into the 39 deaths name two suspects they are hunting
  • Police want to question Ronan and Christopher Hughes over trafficking
  • The pair are understood to run a haulage firm from a farm near the Irish border 
  • Container where bodies were found was reportedly leased by a ‘Ronan Hughes’ 

Detectives investigating the deaths of 39 people in a lorry in Essex are hunting two brothers suspected of manslaughter and human trafficking.

Police want to speak to Ronan Hughes, 40, and his brother Christopher, 34, who are understood to run a haulage firm from a farm near the border of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The suspects are believed to be somewhere in Northern Ireland and detectives today urged those who know the pair to contact police.

Essex Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper said: ‘This is a case where 39 men and women have tragically died and support from the community is going to be vital to help bring those responsible to justice.’

Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a container in Essex are hunting these men

Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a container in Essex are hunting these men, Ronan Hughes and his brother Christopher, who are believed to be in Northern Ireland

The investigation was launched after 39 people were found dead in this lorry in Essex last week

The investigation was launched after 39 people were found dead in this lorry in Essex last week

A family haulage business called C Hughes Logistics lists its address as a post box along a farm track in South Armagh, close to the border with County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland.

Ronan Hughes lives a short distance away along a small country road in the sleepy hamlet of Tyhollad in Monaghan.

When MailOnline visited his home last week, Mr Hughes was unavailable for comment. Instead hostile neighbours and friends of the Hughes family poured out their homes to shout abuse. One told our reporter to ‘get back in your car and f*** off.’

Parked near Ronan’s home was a lorry with C Hughes insignia.

A Ronan Hughes is said to have leased the refrigerated container from Dublin-based Global Trailer Rents (GTR).

He is also linked to the blue Scania lorry impounded by Garda at Dublin Port on Saturday.

MailOnline spoke to Christopher Hughes on the day the bodies were discovered but he denied he was involved.

MailOnline has visited the address reportedly given on the lease document for the container by a 'Ronan Hughes'. Those at the address declined to comment

MailOnline has visited the address reportedly given on the lease document for the container by a ‘Ronan Hughes’. Those at the address declined to comment

Announcing an appeal today, Essex Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper, who is leading the investigation, said: ‘Finding and speaking to the Hughes brothers is crucial to our investigation.

‘At this time we believe they are in Northern Ireland but they also have links to the Irish Republic.

‘If you know where they are or have any information about their whereabouts I need you to call my team.’

Maurice 'Mo' Robinson, 25, is accused of 39 counts of manslaughter, people trafficking and money laundering.

Lorry driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson  has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, two counts of people trafficking and one of money laundering

 According to detectives, Ronan Hughes, who also goes by the name Rowan, and his brother have links to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. 

Independent Unionist councillor Paul Berry, who knows the family of lorry driver Mo Robinson, said: ‘The local community must help PSNI to track these individuals down.

‘All individuals involved in this henious incident must all be tracked down and brought before the courts. I have no doubt the Essex Police will continue to investigate and no stone should be left unturned until these men are caught.’

The bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in a refrigerated trailer attached to a lorry in an industrial park in Grays in the early hours of last Wednesday.

Mo Robinson, 25, Craigavon, Northern Ireland, appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Monday charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering.

Three other people arrested in connection with the incident – a 38 year-old man, a 38 year-old woman, and a 46 year-old man – have all been released on bail until November.

The discovery of the bodies has sparked a huge international investigation to try and identify the victims.

Pham Tra My, 26, was the first person named by family as among the 39 dead in the container tragedy and it appears she may have been deported from Britain days earlier

Pham Tra My, 26, was the first person named by family as among the 39 dead in the container tragedy and it appears she may have been deported from Britain days earlier

Pham Tra My, 26, was the first person named by family as among the 39 dead in the container tragedy and it appears she may have been deported from Britain days earlier

This is the last photo of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, who has been missing since he tried to cross illegally to Britain, his family claim

This is the last photo of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, who has been missing since he tried to cross illegally to Britain, his family claim

Nguyen Van Hung's shocked family have not heard from him since October 21st when he sent a message saying he was ‘going by taxi’ to the UK

Nguyen Van Hung’s shocked family have not heard from him since October 21st when he sent a message saying he was ‘going by taxi’ to the UK

Who has been arrested or charged so far? 

These are the people who have been arrested, charged or bailed by police.

Lorry driver Maurice Robinson: Arrested on suspicion of murder, the 25-year-old was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, people trafficking and money laundering. He appeared in court in Chelmsford today and will appear again at the Old Bailey next month.

Joanna Maher, 38, and her husband Thomas, also 38: The Warrington couple who previously told MailOnline they had sold the container are understood to have been held on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter. They have been bailed until next month. 

Man, 48, from Northern Ireland: The latest arrest took place at Stansted Airport. The identity of the man has not yet been revealed, but police said he has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and suspicion of manslaughter. 

Man, 20, from Northern Ireland: Arrested after getting off a ferry on Saturday afternoon.A blue Scania truck that he was driving has been impounded by the police. 

Essex Police initially believed the 39 were all Chinese nationals, but Vietnamese men and women are feared to be among the dead.

Families face an agonising wait to find out if their loved ones are among the dead after the force launched ‘the largest mass fatality victim identification process’ in the force’s history.

All of the victims have since been moved from the vehicle to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.

Belgian officials said the trailer arrived at Zeebrugge at 2.49pm on Tuesday and left the port the same day en route to Purfleet in Essex.

The trailer arrived at Purfleet at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and was picked up by the cab, known as the tractor, which arrived from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.

The lorry left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am before police were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays at 1.40am.

Dreams of a better life: Faces of the migrants feared dead in truck tragedy while trying to enter UK 

Hoping for a better life, here are the faces of the 39 people who are believed to have frozen to death in the back of a truck after a desperate attempt to reach Britain. 

VietHome, a British organisation which tries to help UK-based Vietnamese residents, said it had been sent 20 photographs and names of people feared to have been inside the lorry container.

Eight suspected victims have so far come to light: Hung Nguyen, Anna Bui Thi Nhung, Nguyen Dinh Tu, Le Van Ha, Vo Ngoc Nam, Pham Thi Tra My, Joseph Nguyen Dinh Luong and Hoang Van Tiep. 

All 39 people have been moved from Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford and are being formally identified. 

The nail technician who paid £8,800 to make it to Britain

Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over $10,000 with the hope of entering the U.K.

Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over $10,000 with the hope of entering the U.K.

Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, from Vietnam paid an agent over £8,000 [$10,000] with the hope of entering the U.K. to work as a nail technician, according to a relative. 

Her mother and a sister today cried as they set up an altar with incense and a photo of the suspected victim where family and friends can pray at their home in Do Thanh village. 

The family heard from a friend living in the UK that ‘Nhung is one of the victims,’ said one of her relatives, who was visiting the missing teen’s mother. 

Nhung and many others from Yen Thanh district, where the village is located, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Hanoi, travel abroad looking to make the type of money they cannot earn back home. One of their main goals is to send back enough to allow their families to build large homes that they would otherwise be unable to afford.

On October 21, days before her family lost contact with her and the news of the doomed shipping container emerged, Nhung wrote in a Facebook post: ‘Being grown up means having to hide your sadness in the dark, and keeping a smile on your face.’ 

Nhung’s family said she first left Nhung on her journey overseas in August. She went to China first, before eventually making her way to Germany, then Belgium, where they believe she boarded the fated truck.

‘I just want a peaceful life,’ Nhung wrote in a caption beneath a photo of her smiling in a green field a few weeks after leaving Vietnam. 

A relative looks at an image of Nhung. The 19-year-old wanted to work as a nail technician, according to a relative

A relative looks at an image of Nhung. The 19-year-old wanted to work as a nail technician, according to a relative

Late on Saturday night, Nhung’s family, devoid of hope, set up an altar in her memory, with her photo next to her father’s.

Her father died of cancer a few years ago. Her mother was unable to work because of health complications and so her loved ones clubbed together to finance a new life overseas, Nhung’s family said.

‘Nhung didn’t have the qualifications to get a good job with handsome pay. Nor do her friends and many others here,’ said Nhung’s uncle, Hoang Binh. 

‘Going abroad and sending back money was the only choice,’ he added. 

By early September, it was not clear where she was, but Nhung was already well into her trip, and reflecting on her next steps.

Beside a stock image of two children flying kites at sunset, she posted: ‘As I grow up, I see that life is not as peaceful as I used to think. When I grow up, I want to go back to my childhood, when I lived freely’. 

Ton Quang Tuan, one of Nhung’s friends living in Berlin, said that ‘We went out a few times when Nhung was in Berlin’ and added that ‘she was in a good mood, very happy,’ but they lost contact after she said she had to leave for Britain.

It was not clear how Nhung had travelled from the Vietnamese countryside to China and then Berlin, but the German capital has emerged in recent years as a staging ground for Vietnamese and other migrants looking to start new lives in Britain.

‘I feel lonely in the place I used to dream of everyday,’ Nhung wrote on September 25.

It was unclear where she was – Vietnamese smugglers are said to advise their subjects to live discreetly and not to give away too many clues in order to evade detection from the authorities.

A few days later, Nhung was pictured outside Berlin Cathedral with a cup of bubble tea in her hands.

By late October, Nhung was in Belgium. She posted photos of herself, again with a cup of bubble tea in her hand, excitedly exploring the sights of Brussels, including the old stock exchange and the bustling Rue Auguste Orts thoroughfare.

It was from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge that the doomed container eventually departed. Her family believe that she was on board.

In Berlin, Nhung wrote: ‘Back in Vietnam, I thought Europe was pink. But it turns out it’s black’.

The ‘VIP’ traveller who paid £30,000 believing she would travel to Britain by plane and car and sent harrowing messages to her mother as she died in the back of a freezing lorry crossing the North Sea 

Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, from Vietnam sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’ in the moments before her death, her family have claimed.

Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she 'loved her' and was 'dying because she couldn't breathe' in the moments before her death, her family have claimed

Suspected victim Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’ in the moments before her death, her family have claimed

They claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life’.

She is from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province in a part of Vietnam where many of the country’s illegal migrants come from. 

Nguyen Thi Phong and Pham Van Thin, told CNN it was ‘very painful’ to receive the text – saying she must have known she was going to die when she sent it.

‘I’ve lost both my loved one and my money,’ her father Pham said, claiming he and his partner scraped together the money to pay for their daughter to travel to the UK.

The pair, who make around $400 a month between them, said the smugglers did not tell them how their daughter would be transported to the UK.

‘The smugglers said that this was a … safe route, that people would go by airplane, car … if I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go,’ Pham added.

A human rights worker in Vietnam, who has spoken with Tra My’s family, revealed she made the perilous journey because her family was in debt and she was desperately trying to help them. 

Her family claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China

She is from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province in a part of Vietnam where many of the country's illegal migrants come from

Her family claim to have paid people smugglers £30,000 for their daughter to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life’

‘She had just returned from Japan where she was working to try and pay off the debt. And that was not enough and so she looked for a better future,’ she told the BBC.

Asking to remain anonymous, the human rights worker continued: ‘For this girl it is very sad that she took the risk because she was dealing with debt that was created by another man in the family.

‘And I also learnt that the service that she was using was called ‘very important service’ and so it is like a business class ticket on the lorry and with that she had to pay double or three times the price of the cheap ticket.’

The human rights worker added that migrants are told they can vast amounts of money by moving to the UK, and the 26-year-old may have been convinced to purchase a ‘VIP ticket’ to get there.

He family mortgaged the house to get that money for her, the human rights worked added.

Pham Thi Tra’s last text messages were sent at 10.28pm BST on Tuesday – two hours before the truck reached the UK, as it was en route from Belgium.

She told her mother: ‘I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe.’

Tra My’s brother told the BBC on Friday that his sister had told them not to contact her because ‘the organisers’ did not allow her to receive calls.

He said she flew to China from her home in Can Lộc, a rural district of Hà Tĩnh Province in Vietnam, then left for France and initially attempted to cross the border into the UK on October 19, but ‘got caught’ and turned back. 

20-year-old impoverished Vietnamese province with dreams of a better life in a British nail bar

Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, pictured at Montmartre in Paris planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain

Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20, pictured at Montmartre in Paris planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain

Another of the suspected victims was revealed to be Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20.

His father Nguyen Dinh Gia said his son told him two weeks ago he planned to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018.

He said he would pay £10,000 [$14,000] for the journey and planned to work in a nail salon when he got to Britain.

But Gia got a call several days ago from a Vietnamese man saying ‘Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened,’ he told AFP.

‘I fell to the ground when I heard that,’ Gia told AFP.

‘It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead,’ he added.

His father told The Associated Press he had not been able to reach him since last week. He had said he would join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.

‘He often called home but I haven’t been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,’ Nguyen Dinh Gia said. ‘I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it’s safe. He shouldn’t worry about money, I’ll take care of it.’

He said his son left home in central Ha Tinh province to work in Russia in 2017, then on to Ukraine. In April 2018, he arrived in Germany then traveled to France. He told his family that he wanted to go to the UK.

Luong’s older brother, Pham Dinh Hai, said that Luong had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder. The family said they shared the information with local authorities. Luong is also from Ha Tinh.

The ex-soldier who left his wife and young son at home 

One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu

One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu

One of the newly named suspected victims, Nguyen Dinh Tu, 26, had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom.

Ms Hoang revealed he had been working illegally in Romania and Germany and had begged her for money to get to the UK. 

‘I lost contact with him on October 21,’ Thuong said with tears in her eyes. ‘I have a big debt to pay, no hope, and no energy to do anything’.

Tu’s father said relatives in the United Kingdom had told him that Tu was inside the truck, and had been planning to pick him up.

‘They were supposed to pick him up at the drop-off point but they called and said Tu was in that truck,’ Tu’s father, Nguyen Dinh Sat, said.

‘I haven’t heard anything from my son’.

Tu had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong (pictured with her son) to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom

Tu had a few months ago asked his wife Hoang Thi Thuong (pictured with her son) to help him raise £11,000 ($14,000) to cover the cost of an illicit trip from Germany to the United Kingdom

Father-of-two who called his family on day of tragedy asking them to pray for his safe journey to Britain

Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container

Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container

Father-of-two Vo Ngoc Nam, 28, is also feared to have been in the ill-fated container.

His wife, Ta Thi Oanh, told Vietnamese media that he had called her last Tuesday afternoon to say he was on the truck going to Britain.

He asked her to call her parents and ask them to pray for him, but has not been heard of since. 

Mr Nam’s father, Vo Ngoc Luyen, said: ‘After reading information about the 39 people in the container in the UK, my family is extremely shocked. We are anxiously waiting for official information from the authorities.’

Nam is believed to have travelled to Romania, before Germany and France, to find work. The local report described the family situation as ‘difficult’. 

The youngest to die: Victim believed his £13,500 to traffickers would mean a taxi into Britain

Cousins Hung Nguyen, 33,  and Hoang Van Tiep (pictured) were both feared to be in the container

Hoang Van Tiep, 18, (right) is feared to have died alongside his cousin in the container

Believed to be the youngest victim, Hoang Van Tiep, 18, is feared to have died with his cousin Hung Nguyen. 

Tiep left home two years ago after his family got a £13,500 loan to pay for him to travel to Russia and on to France.   

He had left his family in Yen Thanh to risk his life getting into the UK. 

His father Hoag said his teenager son had also told him that he would be travelling by taxi to the UK. The family had raised the £17,500 to pay people smugglers get the teen into the UK. 

The dishwasher who had been trafficked to France and had waited for his cousin before crossing the Channel 

Their aunt posted photographs on social media in the hope that they might be found alive. Pictured: Hung Nguyen

Cousins Hung Nguyen, 33, (right) and Hoang Van Tiep (left) were both feared to be in the container

Hung Nguyen, 33, had been working in France as a dishwasher before his trip to Britain. 

His family paid smugglers £13,400 last year to get him to France, and were asked for a similar amount last week.

He was reunited with his cousin Hoang Van Tiep for the final leg of the journey to Britain and are feared dead together, their families say.    

Former policeman who never met his new baby back home in Vietnam

A picture of carpenter Le Van Ha is kept on a prayer altar at his house in Vietnam's Nghe province

A picture of carpenter Le Van Ha is kept on a prayer altar at his house in Vietnam’s Nghe province

Carpenter Le Van Ha is feared to have died without ever meeting his three-month-old son.

The 30-year-old left his heavily pregnant wife and their two young sons in June, when he travelled to Turkey, then Greece and France on his way to Britain.

Relatives said his widow Tran Thi Hoa, 29, was suffering from shock after she only learned he was missing when officials asked her for a photograph to help with identification.

His father Le Minh Huan said Ha had wanted to send money home to his family, to clear the £23,000 paid to people smugglers and another £6,600 loan to build his family’s home. 

15-year-old Vietnamese boy being trafficked to Britain to be reunited with his parents

The family of Nguyen Huy Hung, 15, (centre as a child in 2006 with his older brother and sister) fear he may have been among those who died in a container last week as he tried to get to Britain to see his parents

The family of Nguyen Huy Hung, 15, (centre as a child in 2006 with his older brother and sister) fear he may have been among those who died in a container last week as he tried to get to Britain to see his parents

Teenager Nguyen Huy Hung would be the youngest victim of the tragedy that claimed the lives of 39 people found dead in the back of a freezing trailer in Essex last Wednesday.   

His family has claimed the 15-year-old had longed to be with his father Nguyen Huy Tung and his mother Nyguen Thi Huyen and had spent the past two months travelling to the UK to see them.

While his death has not been confirmed by police in Britain, Vietnamese police from the country’s capital Hanoi are supporting his relatives home in the remote village of Cuong Gian.

His elder sister, 16, who lives in Korea, told friends of Facebook: ‘My brother left France for the UK and we have not been able to contact him since then’. 

An uncle has also travelled from the south of the country after the boy’s parents told authorities they lost contact with their son on October 22 – the day of the tragedy.

It is thought the parents – who are believed to be in the UK illegally – had paid people smugglers at least £10,000 to arrange the passage for their youngest son.

 

 

Distinct Today is a news media company, focused on the intersection between hyper-relevant content and digital innovation. Distinct Today curates editorial news content, experiences, and events across multiple platforms including email, mobile, online and offline. Distinct Today is headquartered in Houston, Texas. The company is privately held. Distinct Today targets an affluent, college-educated audience.