Monday 18 November 2019

Hughes brother was a 'hands-on' truck owner

Co Monaghan brothers said to have stayed 'calm and collected' during raid

Undated handout photo issued by Essex Police of Ronan Hughes (right), 40 and his brother Christopher Hughes, 34, both from Co Armagh in Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Essex Police/PA Wire
Undated handout photo issued by Essex Police of Ronan Hughes (right), 40 and his brother Christopher Hughes, 34, both from Co Armagh in Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Essex Police/PA Wire
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

One of the Monaghan brothers wanted by British police for questioning about the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in a refrigerated trailer was praised as a "hands-on" owner of a truck company involved in every aspect of his business.

Christopher Hughes and his brother Ronan were named by Essex police last month as people they want to speak to about the suspected manslaughter and human trafficking of the 31 men and eight women who were smuggled into an Essex port.

The brothers have been lying low in Co Monaghan since the fatal human trafficking operation was uncovered by police and were "at home" when the Criminal Assets Bureau raided their properties and businesses last Thursday.

A BMW bought for €108,000 a few months ago is among the luxury cars seized by CAB, along with several trailers including two trucks seized from Dublin Port last Tuesday. One of the vehicles is registered in Northern Ireland and the other is registered in Bulgaria, though it is Irish-owned. The CAB has seized the trucks and trailers on suspicion that they represents the proceeds of crime.

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In an interview with a trucker magazine three years ago, Chris Hughes gave a revealing glimpse into his life as a trucker, talking enthusiastically about building up his fleet of trucks, and his travels to various festivals to show off his vehicles.

He disclosed the vehicles he and brother, Ronan, intended to display at an upcoming Full of the Pipe truck festival in Cavan.

"We'll probably stay for the two days and make a weekend out of it," he said. "It's good to take a bit of time out. It breaks things up and everybody gets to see the money that's spent on the lorries and the commitment that goes into it.

"I'd also take a good look at the other lorries over there and see if I can get any ideas on how to improve my own. You're constantly trying to think of something that you could do to make them look better.

"I did the '04 up five years ago and we're doing it up again this year, so we're hoping it'll look the part in Cavan."

Christopher and Ronan Hughes have been under investigation by the CAB since last year on suspicion of smuggling alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, as well as suspected people trafficking. Gardai have been monitoring the suspected activities of the Hughes brothers for some time.

Their suspected involvement in people smuggling was exposed last month, when police linked the brothers to the cab and the trailer in which the 39 people were found.

Ronan Hughes leased the refrigerated trailer from another company, Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR). In a recent statement the company directors said they are "shellshocked" and "gutted" that one of their trailers had been used in such a way.

The vehicles seized by the CAB included a Mitsubishi Jeep registered to Mo Robinson, the Armagh truck driver charged with 39 counts of manslaughter in Essex.

Mr Robinson is accused of driving the cab of the truck to the English port of Purfleet, where it collected the trailer unit, which had arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge port in Belgium.

The CAB is also securing orders from a district court judge to freeze more than €200,000 being held in 19 bank and credit union accounts. Sources at the CAB said the brothers were calm and collected as the bureau raided their homes at 6am and allowed officers to go about their business. Although Essex police want to the interview the brothers, they have not issued a European Arrest Warrant.

Essex police have appealed to the brothers to come forward. Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten said: "Ronan and Christopher, hand yourselves in to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We need you both to come forward and assist this investigation. Although we have already spoken to Ronan Hughes recently by telephone, we need to have a conversation with him and his brother in person."

The 39 Vietnamese people found dead in the trailer unit on October 23 have been formally identified. Eight people have been arrested by police in Vietnam on suspicion of being involved in human smuggling.

Sunday Independent

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