Two people-smugglers convicted of the manslaughters of 39 migrants who suffocated in an airtight lorry trailer have lost bids to bring Court of Appeal challenges.

In October 2019, dozens of Vietnamese men, women and children were crammed into a container to be shipped from Zeebrugge to Essex in pitch black, sweltering conditions.

The migrants were later found dead after running out of air before reaching Britain.

Ronan Hughes, 42, and Gheorghe Nica, 44, were jailed earlier this year for plotting to people smuggle and 39 counts of manslaughter.

On Tuesday, Hughes, of Armagh, Northern Ireland, asked to challenge his 20-year prison sentence, while Nica, of Basildon, Essex, made a bid for permission to appeal against his conviction.

Three senior judges at the Court of Appeal refused both cases.

During their sentencing, the Old Bailey heard that migrants would board lorries at a remote location on the continent to be transported to Britain, where they would be picked up by a fleet of smaller vehicles organised by Nica for transfer to a safe house until payment was received.

Read more >> Lorry driver ordered to sell 4x4 and watch to pay families of 39 migrants compensation

Aftab Jafferjee QC, for Nica – who was jailed for 27 years- argued that the trial jury was wrongly directed on the importance of the number of migrants that had been smuggled and how much Nica knew about the numbers.

He said: “If the numbers were irrelevant, then that should have been addressed at the outset.”

The barrister later added that the number of migrants smuggled in the fatal journey was “completely out of kilter with the recent three trips” carried out by the group, which involved between 15 and 20 people.

Tim Moloney QC, for Hughes, later told the court the haulier’s sentence was disproportionally increased compared with his co-defendants.

Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Mrs Justice Cutts and Sir Nigel Davis, denied both men permission to bring their appeals.

During the men’s sentencing, the Old Bailey heard that the migrants had desperately tried to break out of the trailer and raise the alarm before they suffered an “excruciatingly slow death”.

Dame Victoria said the temperature inside the trailer rose to around 40C while the levels of oxygen decreased, leading to the 39 deaths by suffocation and hyperthermia.

The senior judge said the jury was entitled to consider multiple factors when considering its verdicts, including whether there was an obvious risk of harm to the migrants.

“We are satisfied that Nica’s conviction is safe,” Dame Victoria concluded.