A man has admitted his part in an operation which ended in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants. Dragos Damian, 28, was extradited from Italy to face the UK courts following the investigation into the deaths of the men, women and children.
The victims’ bodies were found in a sealed lorry trailer in Purfleet, Essex, on 23 October 2019. Damian admitted conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and is due to be sentenced next year. Other members of the people smuggling gang have already been jailed for their involvement earlier this year, including four men who have received sentences of up to 27 years for manslaughter.
Damian was arrested on 10 June just outside Milan and sent back to Britain in September. He appeared at the Old Bailey, by video link from Chelmsford prison, and pleaded guilty to the conspiracy offence, committed between 1 May 2018 to 24 October 2019.
Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay said Damian’s main involvement was by “personally and allowing others to use his van to pick up migrants” from Collingwood Farm in Essex after they were transported into the country.
Earlier at the Old Bailey, Valentin Calota was ordered to pay the victims’ families more than £1,000. Calota was paid £700 plus expenses to drive one vanload of migrants from Essex to London days before the fatal run. The 38-year-old, from Birmingham, was jailed for four and a half years earlier this year.
Calota appeared for his confiscation hearing by video link from HMP Huntercombe in Oxfordshire. The court heard that Calota had benefited from his criminal lifestyle to the amount of £1,137.29. The money, in sterling, euros and Romanian lei, had been seized by police upon his arrest. Judge Mark Lucraft QC ordered that the entire sum of £1,137.29 be confiscated and paid as compensation to the victims’ families.
Other gang members are due to face confiscation hearings later this week. Previously, the court had heard the criminal operation was long-running and profitable, with the smugglers standing to make more than £1m in October 2019 alone.