The final person charged in connection with the tragic deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in Essex has been found guilty of his part in the conspiracy.

Caolan Gormley is the eleventh person to be convicted as a result of our complex and far-reaching investigation.

Mr Gormley, 26, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, was one of a number of ‘willing’ hauliers who worked under smugglers Ronan Hughes and Gheorghe Nica, who had both been previously convicted and jailed.

Mr Gormley was a close associate of Hughes and oversaw the work of the also-convicted lorry driver Christopher Kennedy.

He was involved in three specific plans to bring migrants to the UK in the back of lorries.

On one occasion, the lorry was stopped at the French border. On the other two, migrants were successfully unloaded at Collingwood Farm, a rural location in Orsett, Essex.

There is no evidence to suggest Gormley was directly involved in the specific incident which led to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants. However, he was involved in the wider people trafficking conspiracy.

Mr Gormley was arrested in February 2020 and was charged with conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration.

He denied the charge, arguing the only criminality he was involved in with the group was to bring alcohol into the UK in such a way as to evade duty.

However, it took the jury one hour to unanimously rejected that defence and find Mr Gormley guilty after a two-week trial was held at the Central Criminal Court, in London.

He was remanded into custody, to be sentenced at the same court on Friday December 1.

The police investigation was launched in the early hours of Wednesday October 23 2019, when the 39 Vietnamese men, women and children were found unresponsive in the trailer of a lorry by its driver, in Eastern Avenue, Grays.

The lorry had travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the Port of Purfleet.

Each of the 39 victims and their families had paid significant sums of money to an organised criminal group whose members promised safe passage to the UK and a new life.

The Essex Police investigation, alongside the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other international partners has been far-reaching and has uncovered an international human trafficking conspiracy which has led to 11 UK convictions and 18 earlier this month in France.

Detective Chief Inspector Louise Metcalfe, of the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate, said: “For more than four years, we have never lost sight of the far-reaching impact the events of October 2019 have had – here in Essex and, most acutely, in Vietnam, where families still live with this tragic loss, today, our thoughts remain with them.

“The journey of those 39 people began 8,000 miles away. It was a journey they thought would bring them hope and a better life in the UK,” Ms Metcalfe said.

Ms Metcalfe said: “Tragically, that was not to be and on 22 October 2019, the 39 men, women and children aged between 15 and 44 were loaded into the back of a lorry in northern Europe, that lorry was then loaded onto a cargo ship bound for Purfleet in Essex.

“Each one of them husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

“Our priority has always been to ensure that those directly involved in the tragic journey overnight between 22 and 23 October are caught, prosecuted and ultimately punished.

“The people who were part of this international network were ruthless in their financial greed – their behaviour and their actions are reprehensible. They have shown no regard for the law and, most importantly, the value of human life.

“Gormley was not a direct participant in the fatal journey, but it has always been clear to us that he was a key participant in the wider conspiracy to traffic vulnerable people into the UK. He received payment to traffic and exploit people who were desperate – and who had paid significant sums.”

Ms Metcalfe added: “We have consistently promised the families of the 39 victims that we would deliver justice in its entirety. We have been committed to hunting down every person we know to have been involved.

“In Essex and with international partners, we have done that. The investigation has broken up a sophisticated international criminal operation and it has seen the conviction of 11 people here in the UK as well as 18 people earlier this month in France.

“This investigation, led by those before me, has been complex and far-reaching I am humbled to work alongside such formidable detectives.

“Out of this tragedy has grown a special relationship with the county of Vietnam and its people and that is a relationship which will forever remain important to us.

“Today, as this final guilty verdict is reached, we think of our Vietnamese friends and the families of the victims. But most of all we think of the 39 people who will never leave our hearts here at Essex Police,” Ms Metcalfe said.