Desperate voice messages recorded by illegal immigrants slowly suffocating in a lorry trailer have been played to a court.
They were found on the phones of the 39 Vietnamese men, women and teenagers whose bodies were discovered in Essex in October 2019.
A stunned court at the Old Bailey heard victims gasping for breath, coughing and crying on three recordings intended for their families, but never sent because there was no network coverage inside the locked trailer on board a North Sea ferry.
In Vietnamese one victim tells his wife and children: “I’m so sorry, I can’t take care of you. I can’t breathe. I want to come back to my family. Have a good life.”
Another victim says his name and his home province and then: “I can’t breathe. I’m sorry, I have to go.”
There are other voices in the background, one saying: “Come on everyone, open up, open up.”
In a video recording in the pitch black of the locked trailer another voice says: “It’s not my fault.”
The recordings were played at the start of a three-day hearing in which eight men will be sentenced for their roles in the smuggling gang.
Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay said they ran “a sophisticated, long-running and profitable” people smuggling operation.
There were at least six similar operations before the tragedy, he said.
He said: “There is an irresistible inference that there were more events than those that were fortuitously detected.”
Four members of the gang face life imprisonment after admitting or being convicted of manslaughter of the men, women and teenagers who died.
Irish haulier Ronan Hughes and lorry driver Maurice Robinson, who collected the trailer at Purfleet dock, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and people smuggling.
Lorry driver Eamonn Harrison and Romanian Gheorge Nica were convicted of manslaughter after a 10-week trial late last year.
Mr Polnay said Hughes was a ringleader, providing lorries and drivers and booking ferry crossings for the smuggling operation.
He said Nica was an organiser who fixed onward transport for migrants after they were collected from the ferry port.
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