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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Human smuggling trial opens
The inside of a lorry in which asylum seekers died
Four suspects are accused in the deaths of 58 migrants in a lorry
Eight Chinese suspects are on trial in Rotterdam charged with smuggling illegal immigrants from China into Britain via the Netherlands and Belgium.

Four of the suspects are charged in connection with the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants who were found dead in a lorry in the British port of Dover in 2000.

Nine people have already been jailed for their part in the tragedy.

The main suspect, Jingping Chen, 37, is regarded as one of the biggest people smugglers in western Europe.

She is accused of systematically smuggling people and of arranging their shelter in safe houses.

Of the eight suspects, six are illegal immigrants in the Netherlands.

They are charged with belonging to a criminal organisation that was involved in people-smuggling, dealing in false passports and helping migrants enter countries illegally.

Their victims paid around $30,000 each to travel from China, through Russia, Moldavia and Chechnya, then via Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium to the UK.

Four of the suspects are accused of organising the transport of 60 Chinese migrants that ended in the Dover tragedy.

The two survivors are among the string of witnesses already interviewed in the case.

'Systematic smuggler'

The trial began in dramatic fashion, with prosecutors asking for the court to be shown a police video of the Dover deaths.

A lorry in which dead asylum seekers were found
Illegal migrants hide in containers which are then driven across borders
They said they wanted to get across to the accused the enormity of what they had done.

However, the request was refused on the grounds that those of the accused suspected of involvement took no part in the final stage of the journey.

Prosecutors also asked to call Perry Wacker, the Dutch driver of the lorry who is serving a 14-year jail sentence in the UK, as a witness. This request was also refused.

The defendants sat with slightly bowed heads and when questioned repeatedly invoked their right to remain silent.

When the police rounded up these suspects in Rotterdam last year, they found 25 illegal immigrants hidden away, plus six firearms and $50,000 in cash.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"It was a grim demonstration of the lengths people would go for a new life"

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