Driver jailed for Chinese deaths
MAIDSTONE, England -- A Dutch lorry driver found guilty of the manslaughter of 58 Chinese immigrants who were found in the back of a lorry has been jailed for 14 years.
Perry Wacker, 33, of Rotterdam, was found guilty of 58 counts of manslaughter and of conspiracy to smuggle illegal immigrants into Britain on Thursday.
Chinese translator Ying Guo, 29, of South Woodford, Essex, was also convicted of conspiring to smuggle illegal immigrants into Britain, and was sentenced to six years.
Sixty Chinese people tried to illegally enter Britain hidden in the back of the sealed lorry container laden with tomatoes which arrived in a ferry at Dover, southern England, on June 18 -- one of the hotest days of the year.
Port officials found the dead bodies of 54 men and four women when they inspected the lorry at Dover's eastern docks. Two men survived the journey.
Those who died suffocated after the only air vent on the side of the lorry was closed, allegedly by the driver, for the five-hour ferry crossing from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
The survivors told the jury how they kicked the sides of the container and screamed for help as they struggled to breathe.
One sobbed as he told how their pleas for help had been in vain. "No help came," he said.
Wacker had shown no concern for the welfare of his human cargo, prosecutors said, but instead left the lorry unattended on the baking hot ferry deck and went for a meal and a film.
'Sea of bodies'
Customs officials who opened up the back of Wacker's truck described seeing a "sea of bodies" littered across the container's floor.
Each of the would-be immigrants had paid tens of thousands of dollars each to Chinese smuggling gangs known as "snakeheads" for the chance to begin a new life in the West.
The jury of nine women and three men convicted Wacker and Guo on unanimous verdicts after nearly 13 hours of deliberations following a six-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent.
The prosecution alleged that Guo was the immigrants' contact in this country and helped organise their arrival and bogus asylum applications. Twenty-seven of the dead were said to have been carrying her telephone number.
They left China in early June last year and travelled first to Yugoslavia, then across Europe through Hungary, Austria, France and Holland before starting the final leg of their journey to Britain.
Nine defendants -- six from Holland and three Turks -- are on trial in the Netherlands in connection with the same deaths, charged with manslaughter or assisting in manslaughter.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Driver of immigrant death truck makes first British court appearance
Port of Dover
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