A UK driver has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese migrants, who were found dead in a refrigerated lorry in the UK’s Essex county last year.

On Wednesday, lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 25, from Craigavon in Northern Ireland, pleaded guilty to 39 counts of manslaughter at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales in London, known as the Old Bailey, according to the media report.

He denied a further charge of transferring criminal property.

Earlier, UK police had said that the victims, 31 men and eight women, were Chinese, but a number of Vietnamese families have described how they fear their loved ones are among the dead.

Spokesperson of the Vietnam Foreign Ministry Le Thi Thu Hang said the authorities of the two countries have been closely collaborating to verify the identity of “the victims suspected of being Vietnamese nationals”.

Among four other co-defendants who appeared on Wednesday was a British Romanian man, Gheorghe Nica, 43, from Langdon Hills, Essex, who denied 39 counts of manslaughter.

He also denied one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration between 1 May 2018 and 24 October 2019.

The migrants, including two 15-year-olds, were found in the lorry on an industrial estate in Essex on October 23, 2019 and were mostly from poor and rural areas of Vietnam’s north-central provinces.

The hearing was conducted virtually with most lawyers and court reporters attending via Skype.

An Irish lorry driver wanted for his alleged role has meanwhile continued to fight his extradition from Dublin.

Eamonn Harrison, who is wanted in Britain on charges of human trafficking and immigration offences, as well as 39 counts of manslaughter, had been granted permission by a judge in Dublin to appeal against his extradition.

The container had come from Belgium into England, while the truck that transported it was believed to have originated in Northern Ireland.

It was the Britain’s largest murder probe in more than a decade.

The deaths echoed the discovery of 58 Chinese immigrants hidden in a Dutch truck in the English port of Dover in 2000. Only two had survived.

(With inputs from agency)