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Haulage boss jailed seven years for his role in people-smuggling network linked to Essex lorry deaths

A haulage boss was recently (30 November 2023) jailed for his involvement in a people-smuggling network linked to the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese men, women and children in Essex.

Caolon Gormley, 26, was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration on 27 November 2023 following a trial at the Old Bailey. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment on Thursday 30 November 2023.

The CPS prosecuted Gormley, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, following an investigation by Essex Police. He is the eleventh person involved in this operation to be sentenced.

On 23 October 2019, 39 Vietnamese nationals, aged between 15 and 44, were found dead the back of a lorry in Essex.

The victims, and their families, paid an organised crime group significant sums of money to be transported having been promised a safe route and a better life in the UK. The victims died of oxygen starvation after being sealed in the air-tight container for nearly 12 hours.

The lorry had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Purfleet, in Essex.

Gormley was not directly involved in the events of that night but was a member of the wider conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019.

The prosecution used a range of evidence, including mobile phone data and witness statements, to prove Gormley was involved in this network of people smugglers and bring him to justice.

Russell Tyner, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, recently said:

“Caolan Gormley was involved in an unscrupulous network of organised criminals who profited from smuggling desperate people into the country.

“Not only did this criminal network breach UK border security, but in doing so they also risked the lives of those they transported with their utter disregard for safety. It is devastating that thirty-nine vulnerable people have lost their lives as a result of their greed and recklessness.

“The CPS is committed to working with law enforcement to dismantle these criminal networks by identifying and prosecuting all those that exploit and profit from people smuggling, whenever our legal test is met.

“We will look to pursue confiscation proceedings against any ill-gotten gains the defendant accrued in this activity.

“My thoughts will always be with the families and friends of the victims.”

Gormley’s role 

Between May 2018 and October 2019, Gormley, whilst working as a director of a haulage company based in Northern Ireland, conspired with others to bring illegal immigrants into the country hidden in the back of lorries.

During this time Gormley instructed one of his drivers and co-conspirators, Christopher Kennedy, to collect trailers containing migrants and either bring them into the UK or collect them once they had arrived in the UK before taking them to another location, from where the migrants would be taken to various addresses. 

Gormley plotted to bring migrants into the UK three times in October 2019. On two occasions, migrants were successfully unloaded at Collingwood Farm, a rural location in Essex.

However, one of the trips was scuppered after his lorry was stopped at the French border by authorities. Some of the migrants from this trip were found days later among the 39 who had died in the back of the lorry in Essex on the 23 October 2019.

On the 23 October, shortly after the bodies were discovered, Gormley was informed of what had happened by co-conspirator Ronan Hughes. After this call, Gormley discarded his mobile phone in a bin. 

Gormley had worked for and been in regular contact with Hughes. Hughes played a significant role in the people-smuggling network - booking the various ferry crossings and organising the movement of his drivers to ensure that the migrants were collected and shipped across the channel.

In January 2021, Hughes, who pleaded guilty to thirty-nine offences of manslaughter and one count of assisting unlawful immigration, and Kennedy, who was found guilty of one count of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration, were sentenced to 20 years and seven years imprisonment respectively.

Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe for Essex Police recently said:

“Every person in that trailer had left behind a family. They had been promised safe passage to our shores and they were lied to. Instead, they were left to die, all because of greed.

“It has been my great privilege to have led this investigation. That same privilege belonged to those before me.

“These outcomes, however, do not change the overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. We remember the heart-breaking words of Phan Thi Thanh’s young son, whose poem ‘Beloved Mommy’ left an emotional mark on us all.

“So to the words of the parents of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, who despaired at not being able to see their talented son fulfil his dreams.

“And the family of 22-year-old Dang Huu Tuyen, who I believe spoke for all of our families when they said: ‘Our hearts are broken’.

“Today, we reflect on the impact this incident has had, both here in Essex but most importantly 8,000 miles away in Vietnam, where families’ loss and heartbreak has played out so publicly. 

“Although we are extremely proud of our investigation, and the relationships we have developed throughout that, we truly hope no investigation of this magnitude will ever have to be repeated.”

Notes to Editors

  • Russell Tyner is a specialist prosecutor for the CPS' Serious Economic Organised Crime and International Directorate
  • Caolan Gormley [DOB: 30/04/97] was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration on 27 November 2023 following a trial at the Old Bailey.
  • He was sentenced at the same court on 30 November 2023 to seven years imprisonment.


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