Migrant deaths accused ‘was having an affair’, ex-wife tells jury

Court artist sketch of Gheorghe Nica (left) and Eamonn Harrison (right)
Court artist sketch of Gheorghe Nica (left) and Eamonn Harrison (right) (PA Wire)
16:32pm, Tue 17 Nov 2020
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

The ex-wife of a man accused over the deaths of 39 migrants told jurors she knew he was unfaithful but not that he was a smuggler.

Adelina Nica gave evidence in defence of her former husband Gheorghe Nica by video link to the Old Bailey from her home in Romania.

The defendant is an alleged key organiser in a people-smuggling operation which ended in tragedy on October 23 last year when 39 men women and children died en route to Essex in a trailer.

Bodies found in lorry container (PA Media)

Nica has admitted arranging onward transport for two successful runs on October 11 and 18 but denies involvement in the fatal journey from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

On Tuesday, Mrs Nica, a dental nurse and accountant, told jurors that they had married in Ireland in October 2007.

They moved to Essex after the birth of their first child and their relationship deteriorated following the arrival of a daughter.

The little girl was born prematurely with cerebral palsy in 2016.

In July last year, Mrs Nica took her three children to Romania to live so that her daughter could get specialist physiotherapy, jurors heard.

Mrs Nica said she only returned briefly for a citizenship ceremony, leaving Nica to await the arrival of their British passports.

On their relationship, she said: “We were not like a proper family. We had a lot of arguments.

“He wanted to divorce in 2018 but I did not want to,” she said.

By October 2019 they were still married, with the divorce finalised in February 2020.

But Mrs Nica told jurors: “We were not in a good state.”

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones asked: “Did you know what else he was doing in England during September and October 2019?”

Mrs Nica replied: “I would not know what he’s done.”

Bodies found in lorry container (PA Media)

Mr Emlyn Jones said: “Did you find out he was deceiving you?”

She replied: “I found out he was having an affair.”

The lawyer continued: “Did you know actually he was involved in smuggling?

The witness said: “I would not know.”

Aftab Jafferjee QC, defending, asked: “As far as the relationship Gheorghe has with the kids, how would you describe that?”

Mrs Nica said he “loved the kids so much” and was a “good father” to their daughter.

Nica, 43, has told jurors he kept a “burner” phone because he was seeing four girlfriends in Dagenham, Barking, Tilbury and the Romford area.

The British Romanian has admitted being involved in a people smuggling plot but denies 39 counts of manslaughter, along with Eamonn Harrison, 23, of Co Down, who transported the trailer to Zeebrugge port.

Harrison, lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, of Co Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 37, of Birmingham, have denied people smuggling.

Jurors have heard that lorry driver Maurice Robinson, 26, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, and haulier boss Ronan Hughes, 41, of Co Armagh, have admitted the manslaughters.

Sign up to our newsletter