Three Belgian men were today brought to trial for their involvement in the group that allowed Vietnamese migrants in Vietnam to be suffocated to death in a container and smuggled to Britain.

Vo Vang Ho, a Vietnamese-born migrant of 45 years old is being accused of being the gang’s leader. Vo also ran a safehouse in Brussels’ Anderlecht where many of the victims passed on their way to England.

Ten of the accused – three Belgians, six Moroccans and an Armenian – are taxi drivers who are alleged to have ferried migrants to the Anderlecht safe house.

Other 12 include Vietnamese immigrant or Belgian Vietnamese suspects of “several dozen” smuggling acts that have brought over 100 people to the UK. Their exact roles are not known.

23 men went on trial today in Belgium accused of belonging to or working with a people smuggling gang linked to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a lorry in Essex in 2019

22 men in Belgium were today brought before a jury for their involvement in the people smuggling gang connected to 39 Vietnamese migrants’ deaths in Essex in 2019.

One of the suspects - Vo Vang Hong, 45 - is accused of being the gang boss who ran a safe house. Ten are taxi drivers alleged to have driven migrants to the safe house, and the other 12 are accused of being part of 'dozens' of smuggling operations dating to September 2018

Vo Vang Hung, 45, is the one accused. Vo Vang was a suspected gang leader who managed a safe house. Ten of the taxi drivers were alleged by Vo Vang Hong to have brought migrants to their safe house. The other twelve are accused in connection with ‘dozens’ or smuggling operation dating back to September 2018. 

A second Vietnamese man has been arrested in connection with the deaths, but he is currently facing separate legal proceedings because he was minor at that time. 

Belgian prosecutors say the gang operated out of an apartment run by Hong that was located above a pizzeria on Ninoofsesteenweg, the main highway cutting through the district.

According to investigators, police have been keeping track of the gang for some while before the unfortunate migrants made their way through the safehouse. But, the evidence has not been sufficient to warrant a raid.

Prosecutors claim that the smugglers were connected in France, Germany and the Netherlands, with some suspects continuing their illegal activities following the September 2019 tragedy. 

Two days before the bodies were found, on October 21, prosecutors say migrants who had been brought to Hong were driven Paris and then – the following day – to Bierne in northern France where they were ordered inside a refrigerated lorry.

Driver Eamonn Harrison, 23 and from Northern Ireland, then drove the trailer back to Belgium and to the port of Zeebrugge where it was left on the dock to be loaded on to a ferry bound for Purfleet, in Essex.

Belgium launched an investigation into the deaths after it emerged the container in which the migrants died originated in the port of Zeebrugge (pictured, in court today)

Belgium began an investigation into the death after the discovery that the container in which the migrants drowned was from Zeebrugge.

The trailer’s temperature reached 38.5C, and the oxygen level dropped to near zero, which caused the people in it to collapse.

While many people sent their last words or messages in desperate circumstances to their loved ones, at least one took hold of a steel pole to try to get out. 

A separate trial in the UK established the trailer was then picked up by driver Maurice Robinson, also from Northern Ireland, who towed it to an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, without knowing the people inside had died.

Only when he pulled over and opened the back door of the truck did he realize what was happening. He decided to not call 999 and instead he drove for 15 more minutes, talking on his cell phone before calling the police.

Although emergency personnel were on hand, they couldn’t save all 39 of the victims. 

There were 31 victims, including eight men and 8 women. Ten of them were teens and the youngest were twins aged 15 years old.

Hong could spend up to 15 years prison if convicted of Belgian manslaughter.

The victims included 31 men and eight women, ten of whom were teenagers and the youngest of whom were 15-year-old twins

There were 31 victims, including eight men and 8 women. Ten of them were teens and the youngest were twins aged 15 years old.

The migrants suffocated to death in the container on the back of this lorry in 38.5C temperatures as they crossed the Channel from Belgium to Essex

As they crossed the Channel between Belgium and Essex, the 38.5C temperature meant that the migrants died in their container at the rear of the lorry. 

Realising their gruesome fate, at least one migrant had tried to batter their way out of the lorry with a metal pole (damage pictured) while others sent heartbreaking messages to families

In denial of their horrible fates, at least one immigrant tried to make their escape from the lorry using a steel pole (damage seen in photo), and others left heartbreaking messages for their loved ones. 

Although he admits to running the safe-house, he denies that he was the leader of the gang. He also claims that a few people who were staying at his house weren’t being smuggled.

Although the trial should take only two days, it is possible that a verdict could take several weeks. In October the accused appeared in court and entered their pleas.

Seven men – including Harrison and Robinson – have already been jailed in the UK for their part in the operation.

Ronan Hughes was found guilty of orchestrating smuggling and Gheorghe Nicca was sentenced to twenty years and 27 year respectively.

Harrison was granted 18 years while Robinson received 13 years. Three others – Christopher Kennedy, Valentin Calota and Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga were given between three years and seven years.

A second investigation revealed that many of these migrants were from the poorest part of Vietnam and lured by fixers promising them a better life abroad.

The victims had stumped up around £10,000 each for the trip, with their families mostly borrowing the money on the promise to pay it back once their relatives reached the UK, began working and sent cash home to them.

Four men aged between 26 and 36 were eventually found guilty of brokering illegal migration in Vietnam, and jailed for between two and a half years and seven years.

Ronan Hughes, 40, (pictured) headed the million-pound people-smuggling ring which used death trap lorries on multiple occasions - charging his human cargo £14,000 a head

But the journey in October 2019 went horribly wrong when driver Maurice Robinson, 26, (pictured) opened the back of his refrigerated trailer in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, to be met with a gush of steam - and 39 bodies.

Seven men have been jailed in the UK over the deaths, including Ronan Hughes (left) who was jailed for 20 years and Maurice Robinson (right) who was sentenced to 13 years

Romanian fixer Gheorghe Nica, 43, who arranged transport from Essex to London for the foreign nationals - was sentenced to 27

Driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, (pictured) - who dropped off the trailer in Zeebrugge before it was sailed to Britain - was jailed for 18 years

Fixer Gheorghe Nica (left), sentenced to 27 year imprisonment, while Eamonn Harrison was given 18-year sentences. 

Four men aged between 26 and 36 were also jailed in Vietnam for luring the migrants to make trips abroad (pictured, the regions where the victims originated from)

Four men aged between 26 and 36 were also jailed in Vietnam for luring the migrants to make trips abroad (pictured, the regions where the victims originated from)