Netherlands-UK: Questions asked about deaths of 58 Chinese migrants

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

Questions ask whether the death of 58 Chinese immigrants was a "controlled delivery"?

Last week was the anniversary of the deaths of 58 migrants in a container truck. The trials of those arrested have now finished in the UK and the Netherlands. The following story is taken from Statewatch bulletin, vol 11 no 2.

The British trial is over, the Dutch trial has just started and already it is clear that the "Dover-case" is not only about the death of 58 migrants in a truck of a human trafficker. Journalists and defence lawyers have started to ask questions such as: why did the Dutch police declare that P & O Stenaline informed them about suspicions regarding the lorry which, the company asserts, it did not. And why did the British police claim that the inspection of the truck was a routine check, if it only took place shortly before the truck was about to leave the customs area. It remains to be seen during the course of the Dutch trial how much more evidence will be presented to suggest an involvement of Dutch and British police forces, possibly with the support of Europol.


On 18 June 2000, 58 migrants from China died in a container on a journey on a P&O ferry from Zeebrugge to Dover (see Statewatch vol 10, no's 3/4 and no 6). As it later emerged, the migrant group had earlier been held in Belgium, and were told by the police to leave the Schengen area. Asked whether the Belgian authorities would have accepted the migrants entering the UK, the latter simply replied, "that counts as leaving the Schengen space" - although the UK has joined Schengen, it opted out of measures on immigration and border controls. On 22 June, Perry W., the Dutch truck driver, was charged with 58 counts of manslaughter and five of conspiracy to smuggle illegal immigrants into Britain. Ying G., a Mandarin interpreter, was charged with conspiring to facilitate the entry of illegal immigrants. The court case took place at the Maidstone crown court in the UK between 26 February and 4 April, when the jury found the truck driver and the interpreter guilty. Perry W.was sentenced by Judge Alan Moses to 14 years imprisonment and Ying G. to six years.

Parallel to the UK trial, 8 people have been charged with trafficking related offences in the Netherlands. But there, the prosecutions are surrounded by more controversy. On 14 December, the Dutch court in Rotterdam granted a request by the prosecutors for the investigation period to be extended by three months. On 5 March, the court case was postponed again because the defence lawyers received the relevant files only one and a half weeks before the initial starting date and wanted to investigate the possibility that the police had knowledge of the smuggling and were conducting a "controlled delivery". Nine people are on trial in the Dutch courts, eight of whom are charged with accessory to manslaughter, human trafficking and membership of a criminal organisation, the other for forgery. The court case began in Rotterdam on 19 of April 2001, with defence lawyers, Doedens and Boone, suggesting that the trafficking operation had been part of a controlled delivery. Back in November 2000, questions about this possibility were raised in the Dutch parliament. This came after journalists, on the basis of police surveillance reports, had reported that the police stopped their observation of the suspected traffickers on 16 June 2000, two days before the fatal journey .

The British case

The British court case appeared clear-cut and was widely covered in both the British and the Dutch press. In some Dutch newspapers however, Judge Alan Moses was said to have been biased in trying to influence the jury on several occasions. He openly indicated that he believed Perry W.'s statement to be unreliable, de Volkskrant commented on 3 April 2001: "during the summary of testimonies on Monday 2 April, Judge Moses made clear to the jury, after summarising the testimony of Perry W. that the jury should not hesitate to dismiss it as not credible. And on the penalties, he gave a statement to the effect that greedy human traffickers were feeding prejudices about asylum seekers, thereby generating calls for a tougher immigration policy". Perry W.'s lawyers, O. Kirk and M. Lawson, further complained about the fact that they received the relevant files only four days before the start of the trial. They emphasise that there was no reason for the delay because the Dutch police started with the investigations directly after W.'s arrest. Moreover, the river police in Rotterdam observed the main Dutch suspect Gursel O. before the Dover trip on suspicion of human trafficking.

On 1 March, the two survivors of the deadly journey from Zeebrugge to Dover were put on the witness stand. They were interrogated behind a screen, due to fears of reprisals from the 'Snakehead' gang against them and their families in China. The Chinese mafia organisation is held widely responsible for the trafficking of Chinese immigrants to Europe. One of the two survivors, Mr Su Di K. advised his family to tell the Snakeheads that he had died during the journey, otherwise the family would still have to pay for it. During police interrogations, the other survivor, Su Di K., said that the truck was driving fast when its air-vent was closed, causing those inside to suffocate. However, given that the 58 counts of manslaughter were based on the fact that Perry W. must have shut off the air vent - if the truck was in motion at the time, how was this possible? When the public prosecutor, C. Temple, discovered the inconsistency he pleaded for a renewed interrogation of Mr Su Di K. which was granted by Judge Moses. Mr Su Di K. then said that the truck had "stopped" when the vent was closed.

Augusta Pearson, a Flemish interpreter who interpreted for Perry W. during the trial, said in de Volkskrant on 4 April that since the Dover tragedy, truck drivers who are discovered with illegal immigrants in their truck deny any knowledge of their cargo, whereas in the past, some had told police that they were paid for human trafficking. In 20 of the 25 cases where she was asked to interpret this year however, the British authorities had to let the drivers go because of a lack of evidence. Some of the drivers were clearly afraid of repercussions from trafficking organisations.

Relatives of the Dover victims from China declared on 9 April 2001, that they had written letters to Dutch and British authorities claiming 27,227 Euro compensation for each victim, because both governments had done nothing to prevent the deaths. The relatives argue, in line with and with reference to the Dutch defence lawyers, that both authorities had knowledge about the journey and therefore should have intervened and prevented the 58 deaths.

The Dutch trial: will a controlled delivery emerge?

The Dutch trial is likely to concentrate on the suspicion of the defence lawyers that the Dover case was a controlled delivery. These operations allow trafficking offences to take place under surveillance, thereby ensuring that prosecutions for more serious offences. They are of particular relevance in the Netherlands, where they were heavily criticised by the Van Traa parliamentary Commission which investigated the conduct of an inter-regional police investigating team during controlled delivery operations. This official enquiry took place in the nineties, when it was discovered that police had used the operations to try to infiltrate criminal organisations. After the publication of the Commission report, the police had to stop these controlled deliveries, but an exception was made for trafficking of human beings, requiring authorisation by the Minister of Justice.

International controlled deliveries were provided for in the 1990 Schengen implementing convention, requiring the prior authority of each member state involved. Defence lawyers in the Netherlands suggest that the Dover case might have been a controlled delivery, and moreover, an operation coordinated by Europol. According to the Europol annual report for 1999, the agency coordinated 121 controlled deliveries, a significant rise from the 46 in 1998. Of these, 114 concerned drugs and 7 migrants and trafficking in human beings. The annual report for the year 2000 contains no figures at all on controlled deliveries.

Initial suspicions were raised when the police released the observation reports by the Rotterdam river police in which is stated that Gurzul O., one of the main suspects in the Dutch court case, was observed from 25 February until Friday 16 June - just two days before the tragic deaths. The fact that the observation of one of the main suspects took place long before the tragedy, and that this observation was part of operation "Charimedes" - an official research project into the smuggling of Kurds to the UK, is seen by the defence as an indication that the transport was a controlled delivery. In addition to this, Gurzul O. was known not only to the Dutch police, but also to the French and the British. He has a history of trafficking going back to 30 October 1998, when he was arrested at Schiphol airport because the French police had issued an extradition order for him to face charges of trafficking activities in the south of France. Following extradition, he served a six month prison sentence. In the same period, the UK Suffolk police force had sent a fax to the Rotterdam police saying that they suspected Gurzul O. of trafficking.

In the Dutch parliament, the discussion of the possible controlled delivery began on 7 September 2000, when the Minister of Justice, B. Korthals, was questioned. Initially, all the allegations were rejected. In NRC Handelsblad (6.9.00), Mr Jansen, Chief of Investigations of the police of Rotterdam is quoted as saying that the police ended the surveillance of the Dover suspects on Friday 16 June 2000, due to staff shortages in the investigating team. Korthals on the other hand, told the parliament that the surveillance of Gurzul O. had stopped on Friday 16 June because of the high demand on police presence during the Euro 2000 football championship. He also said that:"there was no real indication he [Gurzul O.] was involved in the trafficking of human beings". This explanation was fully accepted by the parliament. Only Van der Camp, Christian Democrat (CDA) MP, questioned the fact that the police had ended the surveillance, but was heavily criticised by fellow MP's who accused him of lending himself as a "playball" of the defence.

However, on 9 November last year, the parliament was shocked to hear about an apparent communication failure between the police and the Ministry of Justice: on 13 December 1999, the Ministry of Justice received an extradition order of France to arrest Gurzul O. and to hand him over to the French authorities. It took the Ministry until 22 May to send this request to the public prosecutions office of Haarlem. The office received the order on 29 May. Normally such a request is transferred to the CRI (Central Investigation Service) within two weeks, which informs all the police forces of the outstanding arrest warrant. In the case of Gurzul O. it took the office two months, until 27 July, to put out the warrant. It was argued in parliament that the apparent communication failure was indirectly responsible for the death of 58 immigrants. The possibility of a controlled delivery however, was still rejected: in a long letter to the parliament, justice minister Korthals said that although the ministry and the police were not cooperating efficiently with each other, there was no proof at the time that Gurzul O. was involved in human trafficking.

In December, Korthals had to appear for the third time in front of parliament in relation to the Dover case. On 11 December 2000, NRC Handelsblad reported that not only had Gurzul O. been under police surveillance but they had actually planted a tracking device in his car. The files examined by the newspaper also showed that the police knew of several meetings Gurzul O. had held with a Chinese woman who is registered on police databases as a "known human trafficker". It also emerged that the ferry company did not in fact tell the police about the transport. Nevertheless, on 13 December, the Minister said that there was no evidence that the Dover trip had been a controlled delivery and that the police did not have enough evidence to suspect Gurzul O.'s involvement in the trafficking. "It becomes very difficult to understand on the basis of all the facts which were then and are now available to the police, to understand why the team stopped with the surveillance," declared A. Rouvoet, a Christenunie MP (a small religious party). MP Dittrich (Democrats 1966) commented: "Step by step we come closer to the point where police will have to tell us there was a controlled delivery".

Another interesting aspect in the case is the fact that on 5 September 2000, Mr J. Boone claimed that the British police had found a phone number of the "Chinese expert" of the Amsterdam police force in the pocket of one of the victims. This "Chinese expert" is being called as a witness. This might point to the fact that the police had an informant on board and that it was monitoring the transport. On 19 April 2001, the first witness in the Dutch trial, Inspector J. Hessel of the Rotterdam river police (who was also head of the "Charimedes" investigation), first declared that Gurzul O. was being observed to "update the Gurzul O. file", indicating that it was merely a routine observation restricted to Holland. However, during his cross-examination, he admitted that in course of the investigation, he had been in contact with his British colleagues on several occasions. Until then, this contact had always been denied by British prosecutors and police. On the other side of the channel, Chief Inspector Nelson declared, that for nine months after the "discovery " at Dover, a team of 61 British police officers worked on operation Mallard (the British term for the Dover case) in cooperation with police forces from Holland, Belgium, Germany and Spain. He said the team only started its investigation after the discovery of the bodies. Nelson coordinated the operation on the British side and also worked closely with the crown prosecution service. When the number of "illegal" migrants entering the UK via Dover notably declined after the "Dover incident", Nelson said that "a stronger anti-propaganda [against irregular entry] doesn't exist".

Sources: de Volkskrant 2.3.01, 3.4.01, 6.4.01; Europol annual report for 1999.

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error