It started with a 999 call from a lorry driver in Essex and ended in one of the UK’s biggest ever police investigations, a hunt for those responsible for the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants. Spanning Britain, Europe and Vietnam, this film shows how detectives cracked open a multimillion-pound international smuggling ring with its roots in a seemingly innocuous haulage business in the heart of Northern Ireland.

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With exclusive access to Essex Police, their officers and the evidence, the documentary reveals how detectives painstakingly pieced together a complex web of evidence, including the extraordinary role of a witness known only as ‘Witness X’, whose evidence helped bring down the gang. The film also travels to Vietnam to meet the families of some of those who died in the back of the lorry, hearing their heartbreaking stories of losing loved ones on the false promise of a new life in the UK.

Together, this forms an account of one of the UK’s most shocking crimes and a story that lifts the lid on the hidden world of organised crime’s trade in people smuggling.

‘The four ringleaders in the migrant-smuggling operation that resulted in 39 Vietnamese people suffocating in the back of a lorry were jailed for a total of 78 years. That’s two years between them for each life. The BBC’s excellent Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers reminded us who those ‘bodies’ were: young people with families who took out loans to cobble together the £13,000 per person demanded by the smugglers’**** The Times

BBC TWO 1 x 60
Executive Produced by Colin Barr & Ruth Kelly
Produced by Jess Austin
Directed by Niamh Kennedy