‘Global ring’ involved in smuggling 39 found dead in UK truck, court told

‘Global ring’ involved in smuggling 39 found dead in UK truck, court told
By Michael Holden

CHELMSFORD, England (Reuters) – A court heard on Monday that a global ring had been involved in smuggling the 39 people whose bodies were found in a truck near London, as the driver faced charges of manslaughter and people-trafficking.

The discovery of the bodies last week in a refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London has shone a spotlight on the illicit trade that sends the poor of Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.

The truck’s driver, Maurice Robinson, appeared in Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court via video link. The 25-year-old, wearing a gray sweatshirt, spoke only to confirm his name, address and British nationality.

Robinson faces 43 charges in all – 39 counts of manslaughter as well as accusations of conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering.

“This involves a global ring facilitating the movement of a large number of immigrants into the UK,” prosecution lawyer Ogheneruona Mercy Iguyovwe told the court. She said other suspects were still being sought.

Robinson did not apply for bail. He was remanded in custody until Nov. 25, when the case will continue at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, and he will enter a plea.

He was arrested shortly after the bodies were found near the English port of Purfleet. The shipping container they were in had traveled from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

‘HOPING FOR A BETTER LIFE’

“The whole nation and indeed the world has been shocked by this tragedy, and the cruelty of the fate that has been suffered by innocent people who were hoping for a better life in this country,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in a book of condolences.

Interior minister Priti Patel told parliament the investigation would unravel “criminality that could stretch half way across the world”.

Many of the dead appear to have come from Vietnam’s northern rice-growing areas of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, two of its poorest provinces.

“If I could travel back in time, I wouldn’t have let him go this way,” said Hoang Thi Ai, mother of Hoang Van Tiep, 18, who is feared to be among the dead. “I clean his room every day with the hope that he wasn’t in that deadly truck.”

Police have said few of the victims were carrying official identification, and that they are resorting to fingerprints, dental records, DNA and photographs from friends and relatives.

Vietnam said Britain had sent dossiers seeking help in identifying four of the bodies.

Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son said Vietnam was still unable to confirm the nationality of any of the victims.

‘MY CHILD WAS SCAMMED’

Bui Thi Nhung, 19, is believed by her family to be one of the dead.

They said she had left Nghe An in August, making her way from China to Germany, then Belgium, where they believe she entered the container.

About 70 percent of Vietnamese trafficking cases in Britain between 2009 and 2016 were for labor exploitation, including cannabis production and work in nail salons, Britain said last year.

A report last March by the Pacific Links Foundation, a U.S.-based anti-trafficking organization, identified Nghe An as home to many victims of human trafficking who end up in Europe.

The other province, Ha Tinh, was ravaged in 2016 by one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters when a steel mill owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics contaminated coastal waters, devastating fishing and tourism.

Tiep’s mother said she believed her son had been tricked into traveling to Britain, since he had made it to France when he was 16 and settled down.

“One day he hastily asked us to raise 100 million dong ($4,300) for his trip,” Ai said, sitting with family members in their house in Dien Chau district of Nghe An province.

“My child was scammed. The guy who helped him organize the journey to the UK said the ‘VIP’ service was very safe, commuting in four-seat car – not that container.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in London and James Pearson in Hanoi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths

UK police arrest man and woman for human trafficking over truck deaths
By Peter Nicholls

GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a truck near London said they had arrested a man and a woman on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking amid signs that some of the dead may be Vietnamese.

As forensic experts began the process of identifying the victims, a human rights activist said at least one of them might have been a Vietnamese woman.

Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been verified.

“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Police said they had detained the man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old truck driver remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck in the early hours of Wednesday.

He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of Northern Ireland. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offense, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

The victims – 31 men and eight women – are being moved to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.

Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased.

Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said at least one of the deceased might have been Vietnamese.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, Hoa said.

“I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breath … I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam … I am sorry, Mom,” the message said according to Hoa.

She said Tra My had gone to China and was planning to reach England via France.

“Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck,” Hoa said on Twitter.

VietHome, an organization for the Vietnamese community, said it had received news from 10 families that their loved ones were missing. Hanoi’s London embassy was coordinating with British police, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.

BRITAIN ‘HAS NOT FULFILLED RESPONSIBILITY’

China’s Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.

“It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death,” the widely read tabloid said.

It added that Britain appeared not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago.

The police investigation is focused on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found, and on who was behind the suspected human trafficking.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct. 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.

The refrigeration unit had traveled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town’s chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived in the Belgian port.

The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49 p.m. local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour sea crossing to Britain.

Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, crossing the Irish Sea by ship and entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were “upping their game” and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)

Murder trial begins for former Dallas cop who shot black man in his own home

DALLAS (Reuters) – A former off-duty Dallas police officer faces trial on murder charges on Monday after she shot and killed a black neighbor last year in his apartment, saying she entered it by mistake and thought he was a burglar.

Then-officer Amber Guyger, who is white, has told investigators in Texas that she mistook Botham Jean, 26, who is black, for an intruder, after she mistakenly entered his central Dallas apartment one floor above hers and he appeared in the darkness.

The shooting, one of a series of high-profile killings of unarmed black men and teens by white U.S. police, sparked street protests, particularly because prosecutors initially moved to charge Guyger, 31, with manslaughter, a charge for killing without malice that carries a lesser sentence than murder.

In contrast to high-profile cases like the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota, Guyger shot Jean, a PwC accountant, while she was off duty, rather than while responding to a reported crime.

The district attorney’s office reexamined the case after the protests and a grand jury in late November indicted the former police officer on murder, with the maximum punishment being life in prison.

She has remained free on bond.

Guyger, who had been on the force for over four years, walked into Jean’s apartment after returning from a work shift and was able to enter it because Jean’s door was slightly ajar, according to Texas law enforcement officials.

After the incident, she was initially placed on administrative leave but was fired days later, with the Dallas police chief citing her actions on the night she shot Jean and afterward.

District Judge Tammy Kemp has imposed a gag order in the criminal trial – meaning no one involved with the case can speak publicly about it.

Guyger’s defense had pushed for a change of venue, arguing in court last week that media coverage had been so intense their defendant could not get a fair trial, but Kemp denied that request.

Calls to Guyger’s defense attorney were not returned.

(Reporting by Bruce Tamaso in Dallas; Additional reporting and writing by Brad Brooks in Austin; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Two arrested in deadly Oakland, California, warehouse dance fire

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters work inside the burned warehouse following the fatal fire in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S. on December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – Two men were charged with involuntary manslaughter on Monday for creating what prosecutors described as a “fire trap” at Oakland, California, warehouse where 36 people died in a blaze at an illegal dance party last year.

Derrick Ion Almena, 47, and Max Harris, were taken into custody elsewhere in the state earlier on Monday and face up to 39 years in prison if convicted, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said at a press conference.

Almena rented the warehouse, which was known as the Ghost Ship, and ran it as an art collective and communal residence. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Harris was a creative director of the art space.

“Defendants Almena and Harris knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape, then filled that area with human beings,” O’Malley said. “And they are now facing the consequences of their actions.”

The 10,000-square-foot building lacked sprinklers and smoke detectors, and wooden pallets partially formed a makeshift stairway between the first and second floors, officials have said. It had just two exterior doors.

On Dec. 2, flames raced through what authorities say was an illegal, rave-style dance party on the second floor of the sprawling two-story building, which had a warehouse permit but was leased to the artists’ collective.

It was the deadliest fire in the United States since 100 people perished in a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire.

Reuters has reported that in the two years leading up to the fire, city officials entered the building on numerous occasions and had multiple opportunities to see that residents were illegally living there in hazardous conditions.

The Oakland Police Department received dozens of complaints about the warehouse and went inside at least half a dozen times, according to police reports and accounts from former tenants and visitors.

O’Malley said Almena and Harris were criminally negligent because they had allowed people to live in the warehouse unbeknownst to the city, fire department and owners, permitting illegal construction and floor-to-ceiling storage that proved highly flammable.

On the night of the dance party, she said, the men blocked one exit to the building as party-goers gathered there and provided no lighted exit pathways to the remaining outside door.

“The paying guests to this event faced a nearly impossible labyrinth to get out of the building,” O’Malley said.

Authorities say that because nearly all of the evidence was destroyed by the flames, the precise cause of the fire may never be determined.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Engineer in deadly 2015 Amtrak crash charged with manslaughter

Emergency responders search for passengers following an Amtrak train derailment in the Frankfort section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in this file photo dated May 12, 2015. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) – The engineer in a deadly 2015 Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement on Friday, even though local prosecutors had cleared the engineer of criminal wrongdoing earlier in the week.

In addition to eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, former Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian was charged with one count of causing or risking a catastrophe and numerous counts of reckless endangerment, according to Shapiro’s statement.

The attorney’s general office did not say when Bostian will be arraigned. He is expected to surrender to make a court appearance but that will not likely happen Friday night, officials said.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s office on Tuesday said it did not have enough evidence to charge Bostian and closed the case.

But a Philadelphia municipal court judge on Thursday ordered the charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment against Bostian to be revived.

The district attorney’s office had said evidence indicated the derailment was caused by the engineer operating the train far in excess of the speed limit, but it found no evidence that he acted with criminal intent.

To avoid a conflict of interest, prosecutors referred the case against Bostian to Shapiro’s office.

Under state law, Friday marks the two-year deadline to charge Bostian in the May 12, 2015, crash, which killed eight people and injured more than 180.

In May 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report that Bostian was probably distracted by radio traffic when the crash occurred.

A federal judge in October approved a record $265 million settlement for the accident victims. A lawyer for Bostian did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Adler)

Minnesota officer charged with manslaughter in death of black motorist US

Diamond Reynolds, girlfriend of Philando Castile, weeps as people gather to protest the fatal shooting of Castile by Minneapolis area police during a traffic stop on Wednesday, in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.,

By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) – A Minnesota police officer was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday for the fatal shooting of a black motorist that sparked outrage when the moments that followed were broadcast on social media.

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez broke the law when he shot and killed Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb, during a traffic stop, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told reporters. Yanez’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

The prosecutor said Yanez feared that Castile was reaching for a gun he had just calmly said he had in his possession, moments before being shot seven times by the officer.

A moaning Castile’s final words after being shot were, “I wasn’t reaching for it,” according to Choi, who said the conversation was picked up by a microphone Yanez was wearing.

Starting about 40 seconds after the shooting, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting in the vehicle’s passenger seat, streamed images of a bloody Castile on Facebook live, and the recording went viral on social media.

The incident began a little after 9 p.m. local time on July 6, when Yanez pulled Castile over on suspicion of involvement of a robbery, Choi said. Castile had no involvement in the robbery, he added.

Castile then, in a non-threatening manner, told the officer about the firearm he was carrying, according to Choi.

Yanez interrupted and replied, “OK,” and placed his hand on his gun, then said, “OK, don’t reach for it then.”

Castile tried to respond but was interrupted by Yanez, who said, “Don’t pull it out.”

Castile and Reynolds both responded that he was not pulling the gun out.

Yanez then screamed, “Don’t pull it out,” drew his own gun, and fired seven shots in rapid succession.

When officers and paramedics were moving Castile, they found a 40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his right front pocket that had a loaded magazine but no round in chamber.

At the hospital, Castile’s wallet contained a driver’s license and his permit to carry a pistol.

“I have given officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of deadly force,” Choi said during a press conference on Wednesday.

“But I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these facts and circumstances to go unaccounted for.”

Yanez has also been charged with two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm that endangered the safety of Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter, who was also in the car at the time.

Asked why he did not charge Yanez with more serious offense, Choi said this was the “highest, most provable offense” beyond a reasonable doubt based on the facts of the case.

Choi said he met with Castile’s family on Tuesday night and informed them of the charges against Yanez.

“The family is pleased with that recommendation because we know what type of charges could be brought about by the statutes of Minnesota laws,” Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, told reporters. “We’re here in solidarity, my family and I, to support that decision.”

She also called for peace as the legal process continues.

Castile was remembered as a gentle man who was so smart he was considered over-qualified for his cafeteria supervisor job at a Minnesota public school, where kids loved him, according to friends, family and others who knew him.

Because the case is ongoing, Choi said he would not release the video and audio from the squad car.

Yanez will make his first appearance in criminal court on Friday afternoon in Ramsay County Law Enforcement Center.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Alan Crosby and Steve Orlofsky)

Oklahoma police officer turns herself in on Crutcher death charges

Tulsa Oklahoma Police Officer Betty Shelby in Tulsa County Jail booking photo

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) – A white Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer, who fatally shot an unarmed black man whose vehicle had broken down and blocked a street last week, turned herself in to authorities on a manslaughter charge early on Friday, jail records showed.

Betty Shelby, 42, was booked into the Tulsa County Jail just after 1:00 a.m. local time after being charged on Thursday with first-degree manslaughter in the death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher.

Shelby was released on $50,000 bond and is scheduled for an initial court appearance on Sept. 30.

Court papers filed by the Tulsa County office accuse Shelby of overreacting and escalating the situation that led to the shooting of Crutcher last Friday. If convicted, she faces at least four years in prison, lawyers said.

The incident, which was captured on police videos, has intensified scrutiny over the use of excessive force and claims of racial bias by U.S. law enforcement officials against minorities.

Charlotte in North Carolina has seen three nights of protests, some of them violent, after the fatal shooting of a black man by police there on Tuesday.

In two videos provided by Tulsa police, Crutcher can be seen with his hands in the air shortly before he was shot.

Tulsa police have said Crutcher was unarmed and there was no weapon in the vehicle. They released the videos, one of which was taken from a police helicopter and the other from a dashboard camera in a patrol car, in a bid for transparency.

Shelby said she was traveling to another call when she came upon Crutcher, whose broken-down SUV was blocking a road. She said he did not respond to her questions and did not respond to her commands to stop as he walked to his vehicle with his hands in the air, it said.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Maryland Bishop Indicted For Hit And Run

A Maryland Episcopal Bishop Suffragan has been indicted on 13 counts connected to a fatal hit-and-run accident last year.

Heather Cook was indicted by a Baltimore-based grand jury on charges including “driving while under the influence of alcohol per se …, driving under the impairment of alcohol, texting while driving, reckless driving and negligent driving.”

“The original criminal charges included manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle, homicide by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol per se and homicide by driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol,” reported Mary Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service.

Cook is accused of killing 41-year-old Thomas Palermo after she hit the cyclist while driving drunk.  She then fled the scene but was chased down by other cyclists and brought back to the crash site.

Witnesses say there’s no way Cook didn’t know she struck someone.

“The windshield was completely smashed in, with a hole on the passenger side, and from the damage of the car, there was no doubt in my mind that was the car,” said a witness to the AP.

Episcopal church officials have asked Cook to resign.