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Alleged 'ringleader' of gang linked to 39 Essex lorry deaths is denied bail

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Ronan Hughes

Ronan Hughes

Ronan Hughes

A haulier alleged to be "the ringleader" of an organised crime group who trafficked 39 Vietnamese migrants found dead in a lorry container in Essex has been refused bail pending an extradition hearing.

The deaths of the migrants hidden in the refrigerated trailer, inside which UK police found bloody handprints, was a "tragedy which rightly attracted public revulsion, outrage and anger", Mr Justice Paul Burns said.

The court was told at Wednesday's bail hearing that Ronan Hughes is alleged to have "organised, paid for the travel and controlled the drivers who collected the migrants".

Gardaí gave evidence that Mr Hughes has "huge connections" and familiarity with various ports throughout Europe and had the "wherewithal to flee the jurisdiction at the appropriate time".

Evidence was also given at the hearing that €200,000 had been frozen in 33 bank accounts linked to Mr Hughes and his family, and that the accused had last year bought a 2019 BMW X5, valued at €108,000, which has since been seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).

Mr Hughes (40), of Leitrim, Silverstream, Tyholland, Co Monaghan, is wanted by UK authorities to face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.

Returning judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Burns said the alleged details of the case made out against Mr Hughes indicated he had carried out a "controlling role" in the illegal operation, which had resulted in the tragic death of the Vietnamese nationals.

The High Court judge said that a person awaiting trial had a presumption of entitlement to bail unless the prosecution failed to satisfy the court to the standard of proof required.

Furthermore, the State's objections must be satisfied by cogent evidence, he said.

The prosecution did not have to prove Mr Hughes would abscond as a matter of certainty, but rather they must satisfy the court that the risk of him absconding ws not a possible risk but a probable one, he explained.

The judge said the deaths of the 39 migrants was a tragedy that rightly attracted public revulsion, outrage and anger.

However, the seriousness of the offences could not automatically disentitle a person to bail, he added.

Referring to Mr Hughes, Mr Justice Burns said he undoubtedly faced extremely serious charges and he could expect to receive a very significant custodial sentence if he was convicted of the offences.

The maximum sentence for manslaughter in the UK is life imprisonment.

"It's common sense that the greater the potential sentence, the greater the incentive to abscond," he said. The case against Mr Hughes appears to be "a strong one", added the judge, although it had not yet been subject to challenge through a trial.

Counsel for the respondent had relied on the fact he had not gone into hiding prior to his arrest, his assets were frozen, he had significant ties in this jurisdiction, had no history of taking bench warrants, and previously stood trial when he was prosecuted in the UK, he said.

Mr Justice Burns remanded Mr Hughes in custody to May 15, when the full hearing of his extradition to the UK will take place.

Irish Independent