Victims' found in UK truck repatriated to Vietnam

Relatives of John Hoang Van Tiep, a victim who was found dead in the back of a British truck last month, follow an ambulance that carries his body upon arrival in Nghe An province. (Photo by Reuters)

The bodies of 16 of the 39 Vietnamese who died when human traffickers carried them by truck to England last month were repatriated to their homeland on Wednesday and have been taken to their families.

The bodies arrived on a flight that landed in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, the news website VNExpress reported. The website published photos of ambulances that transported the bodies to their home provinces south of Hanoi.

The bodies were found on Oct. 23 in the English town of Grays, east of London. Police say the victims were aged between 15 and 44.

The 31 men and eight women are believed to have paid human traffickers for their clandestine transit into England. Several suspects have been arrested in the U.K. and Vietnam.

Hoang Lanh, father of 18-year-old victim Hoàng Van Tiep, said by phone on Tuesday that he had been informed by a local government official that his son's remains would be brought home on Wednesday, along with those of six other victims from Dien Chau district in Nghe An province, including Tiep's cousin Nguyen Van Hung.

"It's bittersweet, I can't believe I would have to welcome my son back like this," Lanh said. “I'm devastated but I am happy to have him back with us soon." Another victim's family expressed their sadness ahead of receiving the bodies of their loved one.

"I have been sad for a month and I can't eat anything,” said Nguyen Thanh Le, father of 33-year-old Nguyen Van Hung. “My son died far away from his home and I had to wait for a long time, but today his body is coming back and tomorrow is the funeral.” Legal proceedings in the case are continuing in England.

On Monday in London, a trucker who allegedly was the driver of the vehicle in which the 39 bodies were found, pleaded guilty to plotting with others to assist illegal immigration and acquiring criminal property.

Northern Irish truck driver Maurice Robinson accused of being part of an international people-smuggling ring wasn't asked to enter pleas to 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Police say he drove the cab of the truck to the English port of Purfleet, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Also Monday, British police said they had arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. Two other men have been arrested in Britain and Ireland in connection with the case. 

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