Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Driver 'Ate Ferry Meal as 58 Chinese Suffocated'

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Driver 'Ate Ferry Meal as 58 Chinese Suffocated'

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK MCGOWAN

FIFTY EIGHT illegal Chinese immigrants suffocated in appalling conditions in the back of a lorry after the driver smuggling them to Britain deliberately closed the only source of ventilation, a court heard today.

Dutch lorry driver Perry Wacker ate a meal and watched a film while the immigrants died during a ferry crossing from Holland, then watched unmoved when Customs officers made the horrific discovery of their bodies at Dover, a jury at Maidstone Crown Court was told.

Opening the case against Wacker, Victor Temple QC said the driver, who he claimed was in league with a Chinese "Snakehead" gang smuggling the immigrants to Britain for [pound]20,000 a time, had crammed as many people as possible into the lorry to maximise his profits.

On a hot evening last June he shut the hatch over the only ventilation grille so Customs officers and the crew of the Zeebrugge-Dover ferry would hear no sound from his illegal cargo.

Wacker denies 58 counts of manslaughter - only two of his passengers survived - and he will be giving evidence later in his trial.

Mr Temple told the jury: "Life in China can be hard. Work is often difficult to obtain and wages low. Many, encouraged by tales of economic success, depart their homeland for a more prosperous life in Europe."

He said the Snakehead criminal syndicate who assisted the immigrants would feature prominently in the trial.

"Their assistance is not borne out of any desire to help their fellow man," Mr Temple said. The gang demanded [pound]20,000 per person, often paid by family members left behind.

"If money isn't forthcoming retribution swiftly follows," he added.

Mr Temple told how in mid-June last year 60 Chinese people were being hidden in two safe houses in Rotterdam after travelling across Europe.

Wacker bought the lorry and its refrigerated container to smuggle them into Britain. He also bought a load of tomatoes to conceal his cargo.

"Wacker doesn't fall into the role of driver recruited at the last minute for a one-off back-hander," said Mr Temple. "The Crown say he was much more deeply involved. …

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